MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) -- Members of a new Navy Reserve legal team providing support to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet (NAVCENT/C5F) were officially presented with the 2017 Rear Adm. Hugh H. Howell, Jr. Award of Excellence by the NAVCENT vice commander, May 14.
Navy Reserve (NR) C5F Legal announced the winners in the supporting unit category during the annual Military Law Training Symposium West in San Diego, April 1. However, NAVCENT Vice Commander Rear Adm. Thomas Marotta, took the opportunity to personally present the award to members of the unit who were drilling in Bahrain. The unit was recognized for ingenuity and flexibility in resolving gapped-manning issues and providing U.S. stateside collaborations for operational and international law.
The unit earned the award after only being established for a year. Force Judge Advocate for NAVCENT Capt. Peter Koebler said the unit's assistance couldn't have come at a better time. "The high operational tempo at U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet means that the force/fleet legal team must often provide important legal advice on very short notice," said Koebler, a Dana Point, California native. "As a practical matter, this means that the force/fleet legal team must remain fully staffed. The judge advocate Reserve unit that supports C5F often seamlessly fills in behind the active duty members of the force/fleet legal team when they are on travel or leave."
Since April 2016, seven of the unit's officers traveled to Bahrain and provided direct operational law support to the NAVCENT force judge advocate (FJA) office with little initial training about the sensitive positions they assumed. The unit's commanding officer, Capt. Dillon Ross, has "led from the front," Koebler noted. "Very shortly after his unit was stood up, he was the first member of the reserve unit to get on a plane to Bahrain in order to assist the force/fleet legal office during a particularly busy time." "But even when they're not in Bahrain, the unit contributes in big ways," Koebler added. "One of the most significant achievements occurred when many of the members of the reserve unit contributed to the drafting of some important fiscal law guidance concerning the topic of unauthorized commitments, and they did it at a time when no one from the unit was deployed to Bahrain."
The unit plans classified missions, reviews investigations into high-visibility incidents, and ensures the various components of U.S. 5th Fleet are operating under the correct legal authorities. "There's cutting-edge legal work being done in a complex area of operations, and we're honored to assist," said Lt. Cmdr. Allen Linken, a native of Bessemer, Alabama, assigned to NR C5F Legal. According to Linken, NR C5F Legal's development of a secure "back office" site within the secretary of the Navy web-portal was a key to not only winning the award, but going beyond an active duty status for Reservists. The site provides a single place for both active and Reserve judge advocates to share information, collaborate on projects, and build a library of reference material.
This enables the judge advocates to respond to time-sensitive issues that may arise in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. "It's basically the ability to support from where we are whenever C5F needs it. It's what we signed up for. It's what we do," said Linken. "It has been truly inspiring to watch the unit stand up and immediately start contributing." U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse comprises 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.