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Taking a brief hiatus from flying carrier operations, Mora’s mission was to employ her experience as a Naval Aviator serving as the Navy’s voice inside an Air Force-led joint command.
The NALE is primarily a function of the Navy Reserve, with Reserve personnel filling roughly 98 percent of NALE billets, given the operational tempo of this unique work. NALE Sailors train in MOB-to-billet positions and generally deploy on 90 to 270-day orders, responding both to planned operations and emergent crises, including training exercises, freedom of navigation operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. NALE units are attached to U.S. Fleet Forces Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and most numbered fleets.
“During my time at the NALE, I helped communicate to our sister services the capabilities and limitations of our Navy aviation assets,” said Mora, who has since transferred to the Navy Reserve. “Senior Air Force officers are experts in the airspace domain but have little practical experience with how a carrier strike group operates. When the Air Force had primary control of the battlespace and the Navy was providing backup coverage, the Joint Force Air Component Commander (JFACC) needed to know how long the Navy could run continuous operations from a carrier in the Gulf to support contingency plans. While a fairly junior officer, I was able to share the capacity and operational tempo that an aircraft carrier could realistically support.”
From her seat in the nerve center of joint air operations, Mora had a real and meaningful impact on flight operations. “By coordinating with our fighters in the air and back on the carrier, we built greater efficiency into our flight plans,” she said. “This allowed us to consolidate some refueling tanker sorties by making more economical use of the assets already in the air, saving at least $80,000 without degrading mission capacity.”
Mora attributed her brief time with the NALE to making her a better officer and aviator. “When you’re working flight operations on a carrier, you’re looking at the world through a soda straw,” she said. “Being at the Joint Air Operations Center (AOC) gave me a much broader view of the air warfare picture. This helped me with my job when I returned to the carrier, and I hope I left my Air Force partners with a more comprehensive view of how Navy carrier aviation operates.”
The NALE’s roots trace back to the Vietnam War when 7th Fleet stood up a forward deployed Fleet Coordinating Group to better integrate air strikes with the U.S. Air Force. The effort to better coordinate joint operations continued through the years and further evolved during Operation Desert Storm. Joint operations made it apparent the Navy needed greater representation in the AOCs. After 9/11 and the start of the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, this need became critical. To synchronize air and sea operations between the Navy and the Air Force, a liaison element was established to provide a direct link between the maritime and air component commanders. This liaison office would eventually evolve into what is today known as the NALE. With the pivot from the Global War on Terror to a renewed focus on strategic competition, the need for seamless joint force integration is greater than ever.
During joint operations, the NALE represents Navy equities and serves as a point of contact for carrier and expeditionary strike groups, coordinated missile defense, maritime intelligence, special operations, and other Navy stand-off elements in an area of operations where the Air Force is the Area Airspace Control Authority. Over the past decade, the Navy has continued to develop and professionalize this component into an essential piece of the joint operations construct.
“We’re not Sailors filling Air Force billets – we’re the Navy Fleet Commander’s direct representative to the Air Force,” said Capt. Robert Reynolds, a Navy Reserve aviator currently serving as the Navy Reserve NALE Enterprise Chief of Staff. “The Navy and the Air Force have different platforms and missions which result in different battle rhythms and ways of doing business. If the Navy needs to coordinate inorganic air-to-air refueling, ballistic missile defense, or other joint requirements, that’s something the JFACC will need to factor into its operational picture. The NALE helps to harmonize flight plans and ensure that we’re all working together as a fully integrated team.”
“NALE is an essential function for every operational fleet. U.S. 3rd Fleet, particularly, has grown into a center of excellence for this concept because of its role getting carrier strike groups ready to deploy and conduct joint air operations at sea and its participation in major Pacific Fleet exercises,” said Reynolds. In response to the Chief of Navy Reserve’s Navy Reserve Fighting Instructions, the NALE expanded capabilities and capacity across each Fleet to provide integrated warfighting effects across the globe.
While NALE units are led by senior officers – leaders who have the presence and authority necessary to represent the Navy to senior Air Force commanders – there are many junior officer billets for those coming into the Operational Level of War community for the first time. While NALE units draw heavily on aviators, they also employ unrestricted line officers from all communities, including surface and submarine warfare officers and those with space, non-kinetic effects, TLAM, and ballistic missile defense skills. Additionally, intelligence officers and enlisted specialists keep the NALE Commander apprised of factors affecting operations. The NALE also employs a select cadre of air traffic controllers and other enlisted aviation ratings to organize flight plans.
“When I transitioned to the Reserve, I wasn’t ready to hang up my flight suit just yet,” said Cdr. Sarah Sparks, Commanding Officer of U.S. 3rd Fleet NALE. “Supporting a NALE unit has allowed me to continue working in an aviation career path. It’s easy for any line officer to feel lost starting over in the Navy Reserve, and this is an opportunity to continue doing real, mission-essential work at the Operational Level of War. I love the fast pace and constant hum of activity. We live and breathe ‘Ready On Day One.’
“You can choose to make NALE your career path or use it as a steppingstone to other things,” said Sparks. “It’s a full-immersion course in combined joint operations and institutional culture. NALE Sailors develop a highly specialized knowledge of joint operations that’s valued across the fleet. Working hand-in-hand to improve operational readiness, you gain an appreciation for the work Airmen do – and hopefully leave your Air Force colleagues with a greater appreciation for the Navy.”
Selected Reserve Sailors interested in learning more about supporting a NALE unit can contact Capt. Ed Spradley – USFF; Capt. Jared Hannum – C3F; Capt. Jan Ketchum – C5F; Capt. Tony Arendt – CNE-CNA-C6F; Capt. Yero Hilts – C7F; or Capt. Robert Reynolds – NALE Enterprise COS.