Officials: Post-War Army Wants to Remain 'Globally Engaged'
Forming regional alliances should be a primary focus for the Army as it draws down forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, senior officials said.
Six three-star generals in charge of global theater commands each outlined Oct. 11 the importance of “engagement” with foreign armies. During a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting, the generals said that solidifying ties with foreign allies will help the United States be better prepared to respond to future threats.
“We need to maintain engagements with our partner nations around the world,” said Lt. Gen. Francis J. Wiercinski, commander of U.S. Army Pacific. “Engagement and shaping truly ensures security. If something happens, I can pick up the phone and because I know the man on the other end of the line, I can get to the root of problems.”
There is no "cookie-cutter" approach to engagements with any one country, Wiercinski said. Within the 9,000-mile-wide Pacific Command, the Army partners with 36 nations, 34 of which have organized military forces. While the Pacific would seem primarily a naval theater, most of the partner nations have an army-centric military structure, he said.
Soldiers are scattered throughout the Pacific and routinely perform training exercises with foreign militaries. Constant engagement familiarizes soldiers with their foreign counterparts so the two can work together more easily when responding to conflicts or to natural disasters.
Troops deployed in East Asia, for instance, were able to support Japan almost immediately following the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck in March, Wiercinski said.
On the other side of the globe, Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, commander of U.S. Army Europe, is courting foreign nations to participate in multinational training exercises.
Army officials are helping former Warsaw Pact countries revamp their land forces with non-commissioned officer corps, Hertling said. Army training centers also offer foreign colonels and one-star generals the same training U.S. officers receive upon promotion.
After training non-commissioned officers for Poland, the country now has “one of the strongest land forces on the continent of Europe,” Hertling said. That success has been repeated in Ukraine and Bulgaria.
Asked if engagement activities would suffer from impending U.S. budget cuts, Hertling said, “In an increasingly globalized world, isolation as a strategy is, in my mind, not such a good idea.”
The commanders in charge of Army operations in Central and South America are forming similar partnerships. Maj. Gen Simeon G. Trombitas, commander of U.S. Army South, said partner nations are eager to learn from U.S. combat experience.
“After 10 years of war, our partners are very curious about the lessons we’ve learned,” Trombitas said. The Colombian army, for example, would like to adapt U.S. tactics for fighting al-Qaeda to their ongoing battle against FARC – the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, Trombitas said.
U.S. Army North, which protects the American homeland, has been focused recently on assisting the Mexican army in its fight against drug cartels that have spread violence along the border. Battling the drug gangs has “brought the U.S. and Mexico closer than ever before,” said Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan, commander of U.S. Army North.
“We have annual military-to-military conferences with Mexico,” said Swan. “Advise and assist has been the name of the game.”
Africa and the Middle East present key security challenges at the heart of U.S. Interests, officials said.
“Engagement makes a difference in every region of the world,” said Lt. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Army Central. “I call it exporting professionalism. Through close contact with the professionals from other countries, those countries become stable and reliable partners.”
The U.S. Army is helping modernize ground forces in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan and Jordan. Those bilateral relationships are being developed into regional partnerships, Brooks said.
If the Army’s budget shrinks, Brooks said the scope of the partnerships may have to also be reduced, but that “big exercises with hardware on display may be less valuable in the future” than personal relationships between militaries and their officers. The generals on the panel agreed that it’s cheaper to have friends and meet challenges cooperatively before they become shooting wars.