In the cavernous three-story Maritime Operations Center, amidst a sea of television monitors and projection screens, a mass of uniforms gathers huddled around a cluster of desks. Interspersed throughout the crowd of mostly U.S. Navy uniforms are a smattering of Marines and a few livelier uniforms from France, the U.K, and Norway.
“Standby,” is anonymously called and all conversation ceases. Everyone stands in quiet anticipation for the arrival of the admiral who is leading the briefing. “Attention on deck,” rings out and everyone snaps to rigid attention.
In walks the admiral, not dressed in the uniform of a U.S. Navy Sailor, but in that of a Royal Canadian Navy Rear Admiral. He is U.S. 2nd Fleet’s vice commander, and the fact that he is a part of 2nd Fleet’s chain of command represents the commitment that the U.S. Navy has not only to its mission, but to its partners who are vital to accomplishing that mission.
When U.S. 2nd Fleet was reestablished on Aug. 24, 2018, it was done with the vision to create a force that was able to confront the very real resurgence of great power competition in the North Atlantic and Arctic. The U.S. Navy recognized early that relying on allies and partners in the Arctic region would be key to confronting future threats. To that end, 2nd Fleet has taken the unusual step of integrating officers from allied nations directly into the fleet’s staff. Chief among the five foreign national officers serving on the staff is Canadian Rear Adm. Steve Waddell, vice commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet.
Waddell, a native of Temagami, Northern Ontario, and a 30-year member of the Royal Canadian Navy, stepped into the number two role at the Navy’s newest fleet to not only bring alternative perspectives to the command, but to revive a partnership that existed before U.S. 2nd Fleet was disestablished in 2011.
“We have had, and continue to have Canadians working in and amongst units and organizations here in Norfolk,” said Waddell. “But this is the first time someone so senior has been here since the disestablishment of the NATO Allied Command Atlantic (SACLANT) in 2003. Having a permanent Canadian Rear Admiral as the C2F Vice Commander is a return to that way of doing business.”
“Rear Adm. Waddell brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the staff, and we are grateful to have him,” said Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet. “Especially when operating in the cold, rough, northern Atlantic environments that we are today, in a coalition manner, having a senior perspective from Canada provides immeasurable insight and expertise.”
While it is not unheard of to have members of partner militaries embedded within large U.S. commands, U.S. 2nd Fleet has taken this further by integrating them into the actual command and decision-making structure of the fleet at a very senior level.
International cooperation and coalition building is key to having a force that is capable of operating together, in peacetime as well as war. Integration does not begin at the senior level. Waddell has worked with and embedded with the U.S. Navy throughout his career.
“Much like the U.S., we in Canada have an entire generation of Sailors and naval officers, myself included, that have routinely deployed around the world, often integrated as part of a NATO task group or a U.S. carrier strike group,” said Waddell. “Those opportunities have allowed my colleagues and me to become accustomed to working with partners and the U.S. Navy. Trust is built over time.”
As the U.S. Navy begins to shift its attention from decades of operations in the Middle East back to blue water and high-north engagement, ensuring strong partnerships between the U.S. and allied Arctic nations becomes of paramount importance. Waddell and the other allied officers on U.S. 2nd Fleet’s staff bridge gaps in understanding, strengthen relationships, and are central to U.S. 2nd Fleet’s mission accomplishment.