NAVAL AIR SYSTEMS COMMAND, PATUXENT RIVER Md.– Throughout the pandemic, the United States Navy has used various resources to ensure mission requirements are met. In the early days of COVID-19, Navy Reservists were called upon to assist Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in establishing an emergency watch operation center.

The watch is chartered to provide 24/7 response to NAVAIR by managing rapidly changing guidance and decision-level information into a timely, comprehensive, and actionable information product to the Command’s Leadership Team (CLT) and support the command’s Incident Response Team (IRT). The team acts as a central focal point within NAVAIR for all activities related to the pandemic — interpreting and disseminating policies and guidance from local, state, national, and the Navy to provide daily impact reporting to United States Fleet Forces Command (USSFCCOM).

In early March, the NAVAIR Reserve Program (NRP) received notification for initiating watch operations and immediately put out a call for reserve support. Within five days of the request, two NRP reserve officers volunteered were placed on orders, and began the NAVAIR COVID-19 watch. Cmdr. Joseph Stewart, from Navy Reserve (NR) Rapid Research and Development (RRD), and Lt. Cmdr. Oscar Mathews, from NR Program Executive Office (PEO), began the task of organizing the first watch.

From left Cmdr. Joseph Stewart, Lt. Cmdr. Oscar Mathews, Ens. Majorie Ingle and Cmdr. R. Barry Walden. Photos provided by NAVAIR Reserve Program Sailors.

The need for Reserve support is best captured by IRT Lead, Scott Holden, who said, “In a crisis, there needs to be an entity that is maintaining the overall tactical picture for senior leadership so that our military and civilian leaders are able to make immediate and longer-term decisions. This entity would keep a pulse on all operational activities within the enterprise and remain cognizant of changes to the tactical picture in terms of metric changes (cases or deaths) and changes in CONOPs from the Combatant Commander (NORTHCOM, USSFCCOM) or the Chief of Naval Operations. Maintaining such a presence is a 24-hour endeavor and it was evident early on that NAVAIR did not possess that level of expertise organically. It was clear we required augmentation from a professional force: enter the Reserves.”

Stewart’s and Mathew’s role in activating the emergency watch operations for the CLT was significant. The watch would be called upon to act as a central focal point within NAVAIR for all activities related to the virus, interpreting and relaying rapidly changing local, state, national and Navy policies and guidance and providing daily impact reporting to USSFCCOM. The internal duties of the watch included establishing the battle rhythm and organizing lines of communications with stakeholders within NAVAIR. The need for a daily Common Operating Picture (COP) information product was clear. The watch organized standards for internal reporting and integrated all valid COVID-19 information into a daily COP briefing. 

One of Stewart’s primary roles was the development and implementation of a collaborative command-wide internet-based COVID-19 tracking, trending, and reporting tool, which was adopted by the NAVAIR Human Capital Management Department and published to an internal SharePoint site for increased leadership visibility and to facilitate data quality assurance. Additionally, Stewart’s tool provided a method for comprehensive data management, facilitating metric generation and daily trend analysis for the broadcast of daily COP information briefs to the CLT.  

Matthews led the interpretation, consolidation, and release of operationally relevant information sourced from message traffic and Department of Defense and Navy directives and supported updates to the daily COP brief.

After Stewart and Matthews successfully developed the foundation of the watch team, Cmdr. R. Barry Walden and Ens. Majorie Ingle, from NR PEO, supplemented the watch, providing additional support and improving watch standing processes.  

Walden began the process of documenting all battle watch processes to ensure the continuation of reporting and communication of command-level metrics. Ingle matured the process for concisely summarizing policy and guidance directives and messages for NAVAIR senior leadership. She leveraged collected data into actionable metrics and top-level truth data for the COP briefing. Their collective efforts ensured consistency in COVID-19 incident reporting and developed the initial standard operating procedures for future watch standers.

“Our reservists quickly established connectivity up and down the operational and administrative chains of command, screened naval messages of tactical significance, and conveyed changes in the Concept of Operations (CONOPs) via a daily briefing that provided daily statistics of infection rates,” said Holden.   “Each watch stander seemed to have a unique skill or ability to add value to what his or her predecessors had developed. The diversity in thought, skills, and abilities made for an extremely professional product. The reservists supporting NAVAIR’s COVID-19 response have been indispensable to our ability to meet fleet operations and to ensure our own continuity of operation.” 

NRP members continue to provide sustaining support to the watch. Given the nature of the pandemic and its impact on command operations, watch operations are expected to continue for the remainder of the year. 

The efforts of these citizen Sailors were showcased in a video webcast where Vice Adm. Dean Peters, NAVAIR commander, highlighted the ability of NRP reservists to “move quickly with lightning speed to stand up the battle watch and establish a centralized operations center” and well as being “indispensable in the shepherding information.” 

I felt that being a part of this watch team was one of the highlights of my career,” said Stewart. “We were fielding calls from NAVAIR leaders who were concerned about their people. The watch team helped them with message traffic, policy management, fleet forces reporting, and internal NAVAIR reporting. Through all the data crunching and numbers being reported, everyone stayed focused on the health and well-being of our people across the organization, treating the process with ultimate respect.” 

The NRP is a diverse aviation-centric community of over 270 officers and enlisted personnel providing a cost-effective, agile, and integral workforce to NAVAIR. NRP reservists support initiatives across the Naval Aviation Enterprise from delivering new combat capabilities and weapons systems to sustaining and supporting Naval Aviation at all levels of aviation maintenance. The community is primarily comprised of Aerospace Engineering and Aviation Maintenance Duty Officers, Naval Aviators, Supply Corps Officers, and a variety of enlisted aviation rates. If you are interested in transitioning into the NRP community, contact the selected reserves (SELRES) Aerospace Engineering and Aviation Maintenance Duty Officer Community managers for additional details.

Story by Cmdr. R. Barry Walden, NAVAIR Reserve Program

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