By Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Brown
USS MOUNT WHITNEY, Eastern Mediterranean, Aug. 27, 2006 – Navy Vice Adm. J. "Boomer" Stufflebeem, commander of Joint Task Force Lebanon, assigned two task force commanders to lead critical elements of his newly formed organization as part of assuming authority for U.S. military operations here on Aug. 23, officials here announced today. Air Force Col. Brad Webb will command Task Force "Alpha," consisting of air and land components, while Navy Capt. John Nowell will lead Task Force "Bravo," consisting of maritime assets in the joint operating area.
"These task force commanders have responsibility for the air, land and sea support to the American Embassy in Beirut and will execute the daily operations necessary to carry out our mission to assist Department of State-led efforts in the region," Stufflebeem said. Since the current Middle East crisis began in mid-July, the Department of Defense and the Department of State joint interagency team has helped nearly 15,000 U.S. citizens safely depart Lebanon, while strengthening hope for the Lebanese people by providing millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, officials said.
As commander of the 352nd Special Operations Group, Webb arrived in the region July 19 with more than 180 personnel from his home station at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom. Originally supporting the U.S. Central Command-led operations, the 352nd will remain in the area, continuing the mission now under the authority of U.S. European Command. "On the surface, the shift from CENTCOM to EUCOM will cause some small changes," Webb said from his Cyprus-based headquarters. "But at the root of it all, the operations won't change because the air assets and ground assets are already in place."
Webb will continue using a group of MH-53M Pave Low heavy-lift helicopters as an "air bridge" to transport people in and out of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, where a JTF Lebanon Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team is located. "The FAST platoon working security at the Beirut Embassy is from Rota, Spain," said Webb. "Task Force Alpha is also responsible for our Army CH-47 helicopters based out of Ingolstadt, Germany, our MC-130P Combat Shadow refuelers and a small logistics element."
While Task Force Alpha has more than 450 personnel from all branches of the service, Nowell's maritime Task Force Bravo has a heavier naval presence of nearly 1,800 sailors, Marines, Air Force medical personnel and civilian mariners aboard USS Barry, USS Trenton, HSV Swift, USNS Kanawha and the JTF Lebanon flagship USS Mount Whitney.
"Mount Whitney is a good platform for the 200-plus joint personnel manning the JTF Lebanon headquarters staff as well as for exercising command of Task Force Bravo," said Nowell. "The ship's command and control suite is phenomenal and provides much needed capability."
Nowell visited both USS Trenton and USS Barry to tell crewmembers how much their work is appreciated. Both ships have been on station in the Eastern Mediterranean since mid-July and were instrumental in helping Americans leave Lebanon. Nowell also passed on a specific message from U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman. "He wanted to say a hearty 'thank you, and a job well done' in getting American citizens out of there in a time of crisis,'" Nowell told the ships' sailors.
Both Nowell and Webb said that while a lot of great work had already been accomplished, there is still a need for continued joint interagency presence in the area."There's certainly still work to do, be it helping Americans in peril or providing humanitarian assistance that helps contribute to stability in the region," Nowell explained. "There's a significant number of Americans that are solely dependent on the ability of our forces to come and get them if the need should arise," Webb said. "Every one of our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen is proud to be here, and I expect it will stay that way until the time when the situation is stable and we can go home."
(Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Brown is assigned to JTF Lebanon public affairs.)