Two NAVAIR officers led a team of active and reserve component personnel to deliver more than 4,500 hours of critical intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance support for a joint special operations task force in the U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility.
The team, Commander Task Group 67.8, recently received the Navy's Meritorious Unit Commendation award for exceptional performance executing a CNO-directed combat demonstration.
Capt. John Lemmon and his relief, Capt. CJ Junge, were selected by NAVAIR senior leaders for this individual augmentee assignment because of their acquisition, engineering and command leadership experience. Both captains previously served as squadron commanding officers.
"My predecessor, Capt. Mike Yukish, and the entire task group did a great job getting things started through their interactions with the supported units and the entire chain of command," said Lemmon, who built on the task group's initial efforts when he joined the unit in 2010.
Each individual augmentee came into the unit with different experiences. CTG 67.8 consisted of two distinct elements, geographically separated by 800 miles, and was comprised of intelligence warfare specialists, force protection personnel, and unmanned air vehicle pilots and sensor operators from active duty and reserve components of the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marine Corps.
"I was consistently impressed with the sense of urgency and spirit of innovation that each member of the unit brought to our efforts, including contractors and civilians and military enlisted and officer personnel," Lemmon said.
With a strong leader like Lemmon, the team worked together well and successfully executed missions, said Junge, who oversaw the 140-person task group from August 2010 to April 2011. The unit began to gain the respect of the customer by collecting and analyzing highly accurate intelligence data.
"Not everyone has the ability to draw a disparate group together, but John really got the group thinking like a squadron and a cohesive unit early on," Junge said. "When I relieved him, that allowed me to focus on leveraging deep talents of the team to increase our credibility with the Joint Task Force."
As the pioneer Navy unit operating the MQ-9A Reaper unmanned aircraft system, CTG 67.8 was responsible for supporting Navy irregular warfare requirements in AFRICOM. The unit continuously worked with joint services to define the future for leveraging UAS to support littoral warfare and provide real-time decisional information for U.S. forces in theater.
Working closely with the Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems program office at NAS Patuxent River, known as PMA-262, which managed the four Reaper assets, CTG 67.8 provided critical, real-time information regarding counter-terrorism to senior DoD leaders.
"Without the support from the program office and team leaders like Cmdr. Tom Cecil and Matt Durkin, we would not have been as successful," Junge said. "PMA-262's involvement resolved a lot of issues we had, particularly because we were dealing with highly sensitive information and operating from a very remote site."
Cecil, who acted as the class-desk engineer and team lead, was instrumental in overcoming logistical and engineering challenges the task group experienced with the system early on. Durkin, aided in theatre by Cmdr. Chris Guffy of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20, handled all security accreditation and oversaw all contract management issues.
"Tom and I talked daily, despite the distance and classification sensitivities, and worked through issues ranging from receiving spare parts for flight controls and payloads to obtaining flight clearances," Junge said. "His team's support helped us get all of our equipment and personnel home safely, which took three C-17s."
In spring 2011, CTG 67.8 safely returned from its assignment halfway across the world. Junge is now the advanced development deputy program manager for the Direct and Time Sensitive Strike weapons program office, known as PMA-242.
Lemmon returned to Pax River in late 2010 after handing off duties to Junge. He is currently attending a program management course in preparation for his upcoming tour as the E-2/C-2 program manager.
"The task group's efforts and the support we received from the program office facilitated the improvements we made the entire time," Lemmon said. "It was very professionally rewarding to be a part of this unique effort."