Although the Soviet threat is gone and there is an improved security posture across Europe, MCPP-N still plays a vital role in the Marine Corps. That was demonstrated during Exercise Cold Response 2012, where Marines validated the prepositioning concept as well as the interoperability between the United States and Norway.
“With 10 years of the war on terror, this is one of those parts of the Marine Corps not well-known to the people outside the program,” said Col. Mark A. Smith, deputy commander of the 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division.
The caves, formally part of the Norway Air-Landed Marine Expeditionary Brigade, have been in operational capability since January 1990. Following a bottom-up review in 2004 directed by Gen. Michael W. Hagee, 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps, the program was refocused for today’s use. Whereas the caves in Norway were designed to hold a large portion of equipment and 30 days of supply for the NALMEB of about 15,000 Marines, the focus in recent years has turned more to theater security cooperation engagements across multiple theaters.
The program is currently evolving into a broader range of support as the Marine Corps is looking into other supporting roles for the program. Brig. Gen. Charles G. Chiarotti, the deputy commander of Marine Forces Europe, said the program will see more options available for the employment of the equipment.
“We’re making it more capable to respond across a spectrum of crises that we would see and what we would need to respond to,” said Chiarotti, while visiting Norway for Cold Response. “For example, we’re looking at building a more humanitarian-assistance, crisis-response capability.”
Equipment has recently been pulled for humanitarian help after Turkey’s earthquake last year and to support fighting forest fires in Russia in 2010. However, disaster relief is not the only function of MCPP-N. With the equipment in place, the Marine Corps can send in a Marine Expeditionary Unit to respond to any emergency.
“We’re also looking at making a distinct capability to support a MEU-like force and do multiple missions across the spectrum of conflict, from the low-end all the way to the middle-end of the commandant’s spectrum,” said Chiarotti. “It’s a middle-weight force.”
The equipment from the caves can be utilized for combat requirements as it was utilized in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said Norwegian Capt. Ola Gilberg, the cave manager of the Frigaard Cave in central Norway. It can be also used for training purposes by the Black Sea Rotational Force or other exercises.
“MCPP-N has done its share of supporting higher equipping priorities within the Marine Corps over the last decade,” said Neil L. Hagen, a prepositioning analyst in Norway. “As we attain and refill the caves to capacity, we are planning for a more balanced equipment set that best supports the European theater and other regions in this part of the world.”
Only a small amount of the equipment was pulled from the caves for this exercise, said Gilberg. The cave here has 250,000 square feet of storage capacity and holds motor transport equipment, arsenal equipment and medical supplies.
“The lessons learned by 24th Marines on using cold-weather equipment from the caves for this exercise will be scrutinized by MCPP-N program managers,” said Hagen. “We intend on applying this feedback to our tailoring of the equipment sets.”
Pulling ten Humvees, cold-weather equipment and multiple crates of Meals Ready-to-Eat, Smith called the exercise a small test.
“We didn’t use a lot of equipment and we were essentially operating out of one cave,” he said. “But for a small test, it was exceptionally well-done, well-organized and well-executed.”
The task of pulling out the equipment was accomplished by both the Marines and Norwegians, as they primarily operate the caves.
“There is responsibility on both sides,” said Chiarotti. “The Norwegians are responsible for maintaining and preparing the gear once it is in caves so it is in a ready state. We have a responsibility of notifying them of the equipment we need.”
“Everything belongs to the U.S. Marines but I have to maintain it, modify it and repair it,” said Gilberg. “The main task 90 percent of the time is to be ready anytime for it to be issued. It’s a lot of work to keep track on the equipment.”
Once the necessary equipment is pulled out and staged by the Norwegians, Marines arrive to inventory and mobile-load the equipment for onward movement from the caves to its employment site or sites. If it is leaving Norway, they will either drive the equipment down to the port or the airfield. However, being in a winter environment like Norway, not all the equipment can be moved by the Marines. This is where the Host Nation Support Battalion came into play.
“Conceptually, the Host Nation Support Battalion is a unit of Norwegian army, statutorily designated, equipped and organized to support the United States Marine Corps forces coming to Norway for the exercise” said Smith. “They provide all the assistance; they are the link between the caves and us.”
The Host Nation Support Battalion helped Marines move some supplies as the Marines did not have the capability to transport supplies across the snowy Norwegian countryside.
“It was, quite frankly, done with amazing seamlessness,” said Smith. “I am still stunned at how seamless and easy it was to work with the Norwegians and to execute exactly per timeline and execution matrix as it has been laid out months ago. As far as the test of the interoperability, they get an ‘A.’”
“There is no test like practical application,” said Smith. As the MCPP-N program was tested flawlessly, the process itself has also hardened the relationship of Norway and the Marine Corps.
“As we exercise the equipment, we exercise our relationship with the Norwegians, we further those bonds that both the Marine Corps and Norway have,” said Chiarotti. “With our equipment here, they also have the ability to quickly utilize it but it also builds a cornerstone of deterrence for any potential adversary that might be out there.”
The Soviet threat that the MCPP-N caves have been built for is long gone, but with the valuable training and operation of the concept, the operability remains relevant today and toward the future.