Foreign partner training adapts to real situation
August 27, 2013
Foreign military sales is generally associated with weapons systems and equipment, but other support provided through FMS, such as training, spare parts and sustainment, are just as critical to building foreign partner capabilities and relationships, as was demonstrated by recent training for the military land forces of Burkina Faso.
The Security Assistance Training Management Organization, a subordinate command of the Security Assistance Command, conducted seven weeks of instruction on reconnaissance and surveillance operations earlier this year.
The training USASATMO conducts for foreign partners is unique in that it takes place in the requesting country, and it is tailored to meet the specific training needs and is adapted to that country's military structure and culture. The training was conducted at a small base north of the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou.
Maj. Cully Neal, an officer with USASATMO's Engagement Branch and the lead for the Burkina Faso pre-deployment site survey, said the Burkina Faso forces trained were some of the more experienced individuals from the land forces, which comprise the border frontier patrols that are to the north near Mali and east near Niger.
"The original request was for offensive operations training," Neal said. "When you go on a requirements survey trip, what you're trying to do is identify the problem … Sometimes the request is for one thing, but the problem that you identify is quite another.
"What we do when we go in as an engagement team focusing on using what they have as a ground work and implanting new tactics, techniques and procedures to help them along the way and create fundamentals."
Working with the Security Cooperation Officer, a defense attaché who works for the U.S. Embassy and acts as a liaison to the various parties involved (such as the Combatant Command, AFRICOM, the State Department, and the military representatives from Burkina Faso and USASATMO), a proposed reconnaissance and surveillance operations training plan was developed to meet the requirements of everyone involved.
"The training was for a total of 100 troops. Fifty in the first group, fifty in the second group," Neal said.
The training was broken down into two three-week segments, and was conducted by a USASATMO Engagement Branch team consisting of two officers and four noncommissioned officers. Neal said the first group that was trained focused on the Plan of Instruction that was developed from original mission planning process.
"The first group we trained went out on the border, while the second group that was on the border came back for the second three-week iteration after a one-week break," he said.
But the training took on real world requirements while the first group was being trained, and USASATMO does what it does best, according to Neal: adapt the training to meet the country and the COCOM needs to facilitate regional stability.
"We were about 180 kilometers away from the boarder that Burkina Faso shares with Mali, and during that time, because of what happened in Libya, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of refugees coming across the border every day. This resulted in the border frontier patrol we were training actually becoming involved in operations on the border as we were training," he said.
As the groups rotated for the second iteration of training, it became obvious that additional adjustments needed to be made for the real-time situation the Burkina Faso troops had encountered.
"We sat down with their commanders, and personnel from the Embassy inside the ODC (Office of Defense Cooperation), and we had to change our POI to meet the most current threat that was present on the border with Mali. This resulted in the second iteration of training being much different than the first iterations as we adjusted to the threat," Neal said.
The practical border and surveillance training (which was the majority of the total instruction time) was augmented by classroom training. Neal admits the language barrier can be a real challenge, but the USASATMO personnel have learned from experience what works to bridge some of the language and cultural differences to ensure their instruction is both practical and effective.
"For the classroom instruction, we break it up into big concepts that you know they can get and digest because they are all very highly intelligent individuals … and then you immediately follow that quick period of instruction with practical exercises, so it is broken up into about 70 percent practical/30 percent classroom ratio," he said.
For the Burkina Faso forces, the benefits of the instruction are the fundamental framework they now have for reconnaissance and surveillance.
"We're not going to take them from zero to 100 miles an hour in a three-week period of instruction, but what they do pull away from it is some of the fundamentals they did not have before. We provide the very basics that when they're out on patrol near the Mali or Niger border, the fundamentals they can fall back on and know this is what right looks like when I'm not quite sure what to do -- that was the biggest takeaway for them," Neal summarized. For the U.S., he perceives the biggest takeway as the human dynamic, which is key to the FMS process.
"We (USASATMO) are not delivering materiel, so to speak. What we like to focus on in the Engagement Branch is the delivery of the connection and the rapport that you develop with the host nation. We not only want to deliver a product (training), but a face-to-face engagement that builds partner capacity -- which is what we're really after," he said.
The Burkina Faso training case also had another unique aspect -- it was technically the first Regionally Aligned Forces funded mission.
"The mission had a lot of visibility in a lot of different places and our team, officers and NCOs, did a tremendous job adapting to change and operating in an austere environment," Neal said.
He credits the USASATMO teams, and the support they get from other personnel in-country, with the success they have with foreign partner training.
"Everyone in (USASATMO) Engagement Branch is nominated and selected for their professional expertise, technical and tactical competence. So we are perfectly comfortable with sending, on any mission, an E-7 to conduct the operation," he explained.
The team in Burkina Faso also worked closely with the SCO, who according to Neal, played an important role in the quickly changing environment.
"The SCO is crucial to the mission when it comes to the details and logistics. When things change, we have to pass those changes off to somebody… and that's what Burkina Faso was like for us. The SCO was always available and when things changed, he changed with it. He made things happen that helped facilitate the mission, which was important because of our location -- he was in the capital while we were more than an hour north in a rural location," he said.
While many see FMS as a dollar and cents transaction, Neal sees it as an investment with high returns for both the U.S. and its partner countries.
"Building partner capacity is going to be crucial in the future of our Army and this starts with training our foreign partners on how to conduct operations," he said. "Because that is the essence, our ounce of prevention, so to speak; with the overall objective being not to deploy thousands of U.S. troops worldwide to solve a problem that could be solved by a regional partner."