Defense Media Network

Interview with Capt. Dan Gillen, Director 4th Fleet Maritime Operations Center

4th Fleet Maritime Operations Center in Mayport has major impact on large area of responsibility


(Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (

Conducted by Capt. Edward Lundquist, USN (Ret.)


Edward H. Lundquist: What is the Maritime Operations Center, and what is unique about the MOC here at Fourth Fleet?

Capt. Dan Gillen: A MOC is basically the naval process to plan and execute naval missions, and brief the commander so he or she can make good decisions to execute those plans in your area of operation. Using the MOC, you are then able to monitor the area of operations. It provides a process to bring all the different pieces together – the planners, logistics specialists, communication experts, and public affairs team – so that you can put together a consolidated plan, give your boss options, and make the necessary decisions to execute. We can do that by both linking up with the tactical units downrange as well as up-range to our strategic boss, the combatant commander. In our case, that’s the commander of U.S. Southern Command. As the MOC Director, I have been described as having the “weapon,” and the chief of staff (COS) has the “facility” here at headquarters. We’re both equal under the admiral and I work hand-in-hand with him on everything. All of the fleets are to be standardized on how they are organized and how they execute the MOC process. We also execute standard battle rhythms. We have standard decision boards and coordination cells, and I know who I can reach out to at the other fleets. It plugs in very well with the joint process, and we’re able to plug in to the other fleets. If something happens and one fleet is not accessible for some reason, another fleet is able to step in and take over. Obviously, that would be very challenging, depending on each area of responsibility (AOR), but the standardization process is supposed to accommodate that.

We follow the Unified Command Plan (UCP), which outlines the command structure and our roles and functions. There are boundaries between the COCOM–obviously, our threats don’t recognize any of those lines–and we need to be able to operate seamlessly between each other. With Second Fleet being stood up, we are working together and coordinating for any issues throughout the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.


Such as something you’re dealing with starts moving in their direction or vice versa?

Yes. Plans should not stop at the UCP lines. We will pick-up the phone and work the plan seamlessly.


What’s unique about your MOC?

We’re small compared to other fleets—2nd Fleet, 3rd Fleet, 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet and 7th Fleet–but we have a very large area of responsibility. The entire 4th Fleet staff is – including the MOC and the HQ – is only 170 or so, including active duty, government civilians, and contractors. We’re a small but efficient staff and we punch above our weight with all the things that we handle here. When you leave your tactical unit and come to the fleet staff, you have a great opportunity to influence issues at the operational level, and even in the strategic level. USNS Comfort’s deployment for Enduring Promise 2018 was a great example of that–a deployment where the Secretary of Defense was making public announcements about it.

Capt. Dan Gillen

Capt. Dan Gillen, Director, 4th Fleet Maritime Operations Center. U.S. Navy photo

You planned all that?

Yes. We planned that. That was a pretty fast deployment. Normally we would take about 12 months to plan that deployment, but she got out the door in about two months.

It was a short-notice humanitarian assistance deployment that both increased our partner nation’s medical capability and helped displaced personnel fleeing Venezuela. They conducted five visits with four countries–Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Honduras. In addition to USNS Comfort, we had USS Ramage doing a deployment off the eastern coast of South America. We had a destroyer and an amphib go to Chile to both celebrate their 200th naval anniversary and participate in EXPONAVAL. Chile is an important and very capable maritime partner and we made that commitment to send forces down join their celebration.


You don’t have a lot of forces permanently assigned here.

Right. So we have to make sure we maximize the use of any forces that come through our area of responsibility as much as possible.  If we have somebody transiting through we can schedule passing exercises with a navy, or conduct any port visits where our Sailors can do community relations projects or host receptions. Obviously, some of our partners are pretty far south to get down to, so it depends on which assets come into the AOR, and whether or not they’re going all the way around South America or not.


Do you have good relations with the countries in your AOR?

We do. And although we’re not like the Middle East or Indo-PACOM, we do have a great power competition occurring here too. Recognizing that and getting the resources down to here and show our commitment to our partners is a big deal. To continue to send forces down, train, maintain that interoperability with our partner maritime forces is important.

Our partners – the Brazilians, Chileans, and Peruvians – they want to work with us. They have very capable navies and we want to bring forces down and work with them when we have the opportunity.

Capt. Dan Gillen

U.S. Navy and Honduran service members test potable water for contaminants during a water sanitation course with the U.S. Navy Medical Engagement Team and Honduran military medical personnel as part of Southern Partnership Station (SPS) 2019. SPS is an annual series of U.S. Navy deployments focused on exchanges with regional partner nation militaries and security forces. SPS 19 consists of fly-away deployments of adaptive force packages to Barbados, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru to conduct training and subject matter expert exchanges to improve capacity in medical, dive operations, and engineering. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Lewis

What are some of the threats that you are facing? Each of the fleets must deal with trans-national criminal networks, migrants, human trafficking, or drug smuggling. But it may be a bigger issue in your AOR. You have a lot of drugs moving from South and Central America, north to the U.S. or north and east to Europe.

That’s definitely one of the unique things about this area of responsibility. That’s the mission of the Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) South. We’ll have operational control of the U.S. Navy units that go under the tactical control of JIATF South. It’s a big mission. There is a tremendous amount of drugs moving, a lot of money involved, and the drug traffickers are very innovative. But JIATF South puts up a really good fight. If we have a ship transiting through our AOR, even if they’re a newly-commissioned ship – we ask them to contribute. They may not have a boarding team on board, but they will contribute to the common operational picture and make reports on what they see as they transit through the AOR. I also have OPCON of the PCs and maritime patrol aircraft such as P8s that go down and work for JIATF South.


Are you using assets like the Military Sealift Command’s expeditionary fast transports (EPFs)?

We’re doing experimentation with our EPF as a platform for the ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS). We’re flying ScanEagle off USNS Spearhead right now.

I did a nine-month deployment with ScanEagle when I had command of a DDG. I think it’s a great asset.


How often do you get a PC?

They have three based here in Mayport, and we’ll get one periodically through the year, subject to availability, maintenance and everything else.


How do they do?

They do great. They’re a great platform. They’re fast – very. They have a lieutenant or a lieutenant commander in charge, and they’re motivated to make a difference. We have Tornado on deployment down right now and she’s been very successful. What a great mission for a young junior officer. On their last patrol they seized more than 16,500 lbs. of cocaine (with a wholesale value of $150,280,000 and a street value of $525,980,000), 6,100 lbs. of marijuana (with an estimated wholesale value of $5,978,000) and apprehended seven traffickers. They usually transit Panama Canal a couple times, make some port visits, and we don’t usually have an oiler in SOUTHCOM, so they pull into various ports for fuel. The PCs have a lot of autonomy, working for JIATF South. And just like the name implies, JIATF South is a joint operation. We have Coast Guard law enforcement detachments on the PCs.

Brazilian marines test their amphibious capabilities with amphibious assault vehicles during UNITAS LX at Ilha do Governador, Brazil, Aug. 20, 2019. UNITAS is the world’s longest-running, annual exercise and brings together multinational forces from 11 countries to include Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Mexico, Great Britain and the United States. The exercise focuses in strengthening the existing regional partnerships and encourages establishing new relationships through the exchange of maritime mission-focused knowledge and expertise during multinational training operations. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Amy Phan

Do you work closely with the Coast Guard?

Not as much as JIATF South. I work closer with the Marine Corps for some of my missions.


You have a Special Purpose MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) in Honduras?

We have a Special MAGTF assigned at various times during the year. We interacted with them with our Southern Seas deployment last year.


I’m not familiar with that exercise.

The Southern Seas mission is USNAVSO’s traditional grey hull deployment. We’ll get a ship that will go down and do a variety of theater security cooperation exercises, including UNITAS. UNITAS is under the Southern Seas umbrella.


I’m familiar with UNITAS.

UNITAS is the oldest U.S. sponsored multi-national maritime exercise in the world. This will be the 60th year. We’re planning two UNITAS exercises this year. We have a UNITAS Pacific, which Chile will host, and a UNITAS Atlantic, which Brazil will host. They’re two very, very important partners in South America. There’s great YouTube video that the Peruvian’s did on the 2017 UNITAS.


Brazilian Adm. Leonardo Puntel, commander of the Brazilian operational navy, visits with multinational forces aboard the Brazilian amphibious assault ship PHM Atlantico (A140) in support of UNITAS LX, Aug. 26, 2019. UNITAS, which is Latin for unity, was conceived in 1959, first executed in 1960 and has been held every year since. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd class Ian Parham

Are we going to have U.S. forces participating in both?

Yes. We have a destroyer for UNITAS Pacific, along with P8s and some other forces. And then we have an LSD UNITAS Atlantic. I think it will be very enriching working with our partners and at the same time they’re good maritime exercises. We set up multinational staffs and they run the exercises. It’s a great experience.


Do you contribute to those staffs?

DESRON 40 is an assigned force to 4th Fleet, and the DESRON 40 commodore will be the deputy under the host country admiral who’s running the exercise.  DESRON 40 is our executor for Southern Seas, UNITAS and Southern Partnership Station.


What kind of planning goes into bringing a hospital ship, or an EPF, or a non-war ship?

There is a tremendous amount of planning. For example, before the hospital ship can pull into port and conduct their care, planners have to go to those countries and do the Predeployment Site Surveys. (PSS). They have to work with the host nations to find the most appropriate sites where they will provide the medical care, and talk to the medical professionals in the area to determine what kind of needs each area has. Will the ship be anchored or pierside? Do we have all the services that go along a port visit? And the big thing is to make the arrangements at the medical sites so we can have patients or provide training.


I imagine the country team at the embassies have a lot to do with that.

It’s all through the country team. And when we did Enduring Promise with Comfort last year, we had a short amount of time to plan. We have to look at tugs and pilots available, fendering, potable water, and sewage.  A lot of arrangements have to occur. And normally the contracting has to be in 30 days beforehand so that the contracts can be written, bid out, and awarded. And whomever gets the contract has to go arrange all those services as promised.


I hadn’t even thought about that contracting timeline as being a factor.

The U.S. Navy doesn’t visit these ports as often as we do in Europe, Pacific, and the Arabian Gulf; the husbanding agents do not have a lot of experience with US Navy ships. And obviously, each ship has its own characteristics as far as draft, hull appendages, sonar domes, etc. My Logistics Resource Center (LRC) is great, a real hardworking team. My operations team also has to get the diplomatic clearances for the port visits. So these are all things that have to be arranged beforehand so we can do these port visits.


The Harpers Ferry-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Carter Hall (LSD 50) sits at anchor in Sepetiba Bay, Brazil, while conducting amphibious operations in support of UNITAS LX, Aug. 26, 2019. UNITAS, which is Latin for unity, was conceived in 1959, first executed in 1960 and has been held every year since. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kody A. Phillips

If you have ships in your AOR, you have to sustain them and maintain them. They may have to do mid-deployment voyage repairs. If you’re in the Arabian Gulf, there are some yards that are already approved to do Navy work, you have pre-negotiated contracts, and you can assign a ship supervisor and send the ship in to get fixed. Do you have any of that here in your AOR?

I don’t have regularly-scheduled military sealift support in SOUTHCOM, such as oilers or T-AKEs.   We have fuels contracts in various ports throughout the AOR, and there are ports where we can get DFM and JP5. The great thing we have here is Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, which is a great resource both for food, stores and fuel; but also for any kind of repairs that we’ve got to do. We can fly contractors down and conduct repairs in Guantanamo Bay.


Do you have an expert on your staff who knows those ports inside and out?

Our contracting officers generally visit the ships on large port visits or first port visits for each ship, and supervise the contracts to make sure they are being executed correctly.


You get the newly built ships coming around to go to the west coast.

We get the DDGs, LPDs, and LCSs. We just had Charleston come through the AOR. She did very well. She stopped in Guantanamo Bay and then went through the Panama Canal. We’ve had Manchester and Tulsa come through this year. Freedom came here after she was commissioned and did a 45-day deployment. It was successful. She had some drug busts; two of which were due to her speed. We look forward to getting LCS in SOUTHCOM. We have plenty of work for them to do.


You mentioned UNITAS as a major event. What about Panamax?

Panama is a staff exercise, and it’s tremendous. We had 98 multi-national officers here at our headquarters, from a number of countries—almost every country in South America. We had a Brazilian admiral as Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC), and he and his staff were very well-prepared. They saw the strength of formal operational planning during the exercise, and wanted a stack of CDs with all the products they produced, and all the training they had. Their admiral is a believer in the U.S. Navy planning process, and he wanted to make sure they used it when he went back to the Brazilian Navy.


How often are you on the phone to Southern Command?

Multiple times during the day. Especially when we get an expedited deployment, like Comfort. As the Navy component to Southern Command, they look to us for naval expertise. We’re expected to have the pulse on the Navy and be subject matter experts on Navy operations, and to know what naval forces are doing, both inside and outside of the AOR, and what naval forces may be available. I have the long-range schedule so I know when ships are coming in. And then depending on how much time I have with them and where they are in their deployment certification cycle, I can make plans accordingly to use them in our theater.


So what’s the most gratifying part of this job for you, besides looking out the window and seeing guided missile cruisers and destroyers?

I would say one of those “moments” was when the Brazilian admiral walked away with a very positive experience with our exercise. Bringing in a multi-national staff, giving them a scenario, having them plan and then execute successfully, was gratifying.

And getting the Comfort deployed on short notice in response to the Venezuelan crisis was rewarding. Overall, after leaving a ship and operating at the tactical level, coming to a fleet command gives an officer an opportunity to impact an entire AOR at the operational level. It is very rewarding.



Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...