By David VergunMay 2, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 2, 2013) -- Forging bonds with the Soldiers of other countries can pay big dividends, said the Army's top enlisted leader.
At the front of that effort to build relationships and understanding between U.S. and foreign enlisted troops is the International Military Students Organization, at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, Fort Bliss, Texas, said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III.
Each year, dozens of Soldiers from different countries attend the 10-month course at the academy. The course is designed to prepare first sergeants and master sergeants to become the next generation of top enlisted leaders in the Army.
While the training is rigorous and essential for leader development, Chandler said it is the interactions between the foreign and American Soldiers that is important.
Chandler has first-hand knowledge of the academy, as he was the commandant there before being selected for his current assignment.
Today, he often meets with his counterparts from other countries, many of whom went through the academy with him when he was a student or later when he served as the commandant.
The shared experiences of those students are priceless to sergeants major at all levels, from battalion to corps, Chandler said.
NATIONAL SECURITY BENEFIT
Building relationships between American and partner nations is so important, that it is referred to as the "shaping" aspect of the Army's three-pillar strategy: "prevent, shape, win," Chandler said.
Shortly after becoming Army chief of staff in 2011, Gen. Ray Odierno wrote a commentary about the strategy.
"Our Army must help shape the international environment so our friends are enabled and our enemies contained," Odierno wrote. "We do that by engaging with our partners, fostering mutual understanding through military-to-military contacts and helping partners build the capacity to defend themselves.
"This is an investment in the future, and an investment we cannot afford to forego," Odierno continued. "It is cultivating friends before you need them, [and] being a reliable, consistent, and respectful partner."
That shaping aspect is becoming increasingly important as the Army engages in regional alignments and builds partner capacity, Chandler said.
Brigades receive culture-specific training prior to becoming regionally aligned, Chandler said. The region-specific training lasts several weeks and continues throughout the time the unit is aligned. Soldiers learn about the region's populations and their religious beliefs, societal values and customs.
"Once they learn about the region, Soldiers will usually develop a greater appreciation for the area they might be going to," Chandler said.
"Our officers have been doing this kind of relationship-building for some time now. But now our sergeants major are being asked to do something similar on the NCO level," he said. "I think we'll continue to see an expansion in our partner-nation building."
VALUE FOR PARTNERS
While preventing the next war through partnering and shaping is often in America's best interest, other countries benefit through partnering with the United States and its Army as well, Chandler said.
One example of that, Chandler said, comes from showcasing the Army's non-commissioned officer corps. The chief of staff often meets chiefs from other armies around the world, and is asked about how they too can get the type of NCO corps the U.S. Army has cultivated.
"They want that too," Chandler said.
One reason others admire America's NCO corps, Chandler said, is that the leadership ability they possess and display frees up time for commissioned officers to do more of the planning and preparation work at a higher tactical and strategic level.
The NCO corps also brings a high level of technology training to the battlefield, Chandler said. And as Army systems are becoming more sophisticated, those skills are proving invaluable.
In addition to leadership and technical expertise, he said, U.S. Army NCOs are tactically well-versed and able to exercise the initiative on the battlefield.
With shrinking budgets -- not just in the U.S. Army but in armies worldwide -- military leaders see the benefits of further developing their NCO corps to add value to their services; even as funding and manpower shrinks, Chandler said.
In their partnering efforts, Army NCOs train their counterparts worldwide in small-unit tactics and leadership development, as well as assisting in civil works projects and infrastructure development. That's a big benefit for them as well as for America's global security efforts, Chandler said.
"Building an NCO corps takes time," Chandler said. "It's taken us 237 years to do this and we're continuing to grow. You can't take the American NCO corps and put it into another country and expect them tomorrow to be performing just like American NCOs.
"They need to see what best fits their own country in developing leaders," he continued. "We don't want to tell them how to do it. We just want to show them what we do and they can pick and choose what works for them culturally and fiscally."
There are many examples of international bonds created from the shared training at the academy, Chandler said.
For example, after Afghan National Army Sgt. Maj. Rochan Safi attended the academy, he returned to his own country to further develop his own NCOs. That effort will be instrumental in helping the Afghans take the lead in providing for their own security, Chandler said. And that is an important step going forward as the U.S. transitions out of the country.
Chandler also said that because of the experience Safi shared with fellow students at the academy, he is now more able to converse with other NATO sergeants major.
Another example is the sergeant major of Jordan's army. He said he thought the experience was valuable enough to subsequently send other Jordanian enlisted leaders to the academy. He wants to eventually institute his own NCO education program in Jordan.
International students often have preconceived notions about what America and its Army is all about, Chandler said.
"As commandant, I found it always fascinating to hear about how their perceptions changed based on interactions with Soldiers and American people," he said.
"Jeanne (Chandler's wife) and I enjoyed time spent with them and their families," Chandler said. "Having an open mind to learning about a new culture and way of life is the most important way to build friendships," both for the American and foreign students and their families.
"It takes a lot of courage to leave your country for a year and move to El Paso with your family. You really have to admire that," Chandler said.
The academy does a great job matching students and their families with people in the local community to help ease their way into the American experience, he added.
The bottom line, Chandler said, is there are a lot more similarities than differences between Americans and people from other countries. "They basically want the same thing we do: A great life for their families, raising children and being responsible members of society."
CLASS OF 2013
International students from the academy were in Washington, D.C., this week as part of their Field Studies Program. The goal was to show them first-hand about the U.S. government and American culture.
May 1, Chandler invited the students to his house on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va. While there, several students spoke about their experiences so far at the academy, as they near graduation.
South African army Warrant Officer 1 Mayke Violett Poo, said she learned a lot during her time at the academy and values the personal relationships that developed. She hopes that the U.S. Army will maintain people-to-people contacts over the long-term with past international graduates.
In some countries, warrant officers are more comparable to senior enlisted service members. In the most recent class of students at the academy, Poo was one of a few international Soldiers with the rank of warrant officer.
She questions how much of what she learned at the academy could be passed on to her own army, which she said is very different from America's. The role of women, for one, is much greater in South Africa's army, she said. Poo's own military operational specialty is infantryman and she has participated in a number of U.N. operations.
The sergeant major of the Kosovo Security Forces, Genc Metaj, a counterpart to Chandler, said his expectations for what it would be like at the academy were exceeded. He said he expected lessons with homework, similar to a university setting. But then he found it was more hands-on and people-oriented, which he said was so much better.
As the leader of the Kosovo army's enlisted Soldiers, he said he'll use lessons learned to help develop his army's own NCO corps. He said this is particularly valuable since Kosovo is a relatively new nation.
Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Sgt. Maj. Toshiki Iwasaki said the training has been very useful and he hopes to apply what he's learned as well. He said for many years the Japanese public did not fully appreciate its army, especially its enlisted Soldiers.
But following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami which devastated a large swath of northeast Honshu, Soldiers of all ranks became more highly respected because of the assistance they rendered, Iwasaki said.
He hopes to make the NCO corps an institution that garners a lot of admiration and respect.
ALL SOLDIERS ARE AMBASSADORS
Not every Soldier will have the opportunity to attend the academy, Chandler said. But it's important when going abroad to "remember you're representing America and the U.S. Army. Be aware of your environment and the cultural norms that you're operating in so you don't offend or upset someone because you weren't aware of something.
"And remember you have an impact across an entire spectrum of operations. Army leadership and the American people trust you and are grateful for what you do and they believe you are going to make a difference.
"Look at it this way," he continued. Going abroad "is a great opportunity for you to learn something about a different country's culture, values, norms, language, society and beliefs. It's a big plus for you and a big plus for our Army."
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