By Gary SheftickOctober 28, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 25, 2013) -- U.S. Army Central Command is looking past Afghanistan to conduct exercises and sustain partnerships in 19 other countries under the Regionally Aligned Forces concept.
For instance, Exercise Steppe Eagle in Kazakhstan this summer involved the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, and that was just one of many Regionally Aligned Forces, or RAF, engagements the brigade conducted across U.S. Central Command's, or CENTCOM's, area of resonsibility, said Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, commander of U.S. Army Central Command, known as ARCENT.
"Long before the term RAF was cool," CENTCOM has been building partner capacity, said Col. Thomas Weikert, ARCENT's G-3 chief of staff. He discussed RAF in countries such as Kazakhstan and Oman during a "Warriors Corner" presentation, Oct. 23, at the 2013 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.
About 20,000 U.S. Soldiers are currently stationed outside of Afghanistan in the CENTCOM area, Weikert said, and they are doing far more than operating supply routes and conducting retrograde operations.
"RAF efforts in U.S. Army Central are all about setting conditions," Weikert said, explaining the engagements build more capable partners "and that translates into better deterrence."
The 20 nations in CENTCOM's area cover 12 million square kilometers, Weikert said. About 540 million people there speak 60 different languages and practice 27 different religions.
ARCENT conducted almost 1,800 training events and symposia over the last fiscal year, Weikert said. Operation Spartan Shield exercises in particular helped build the capacity of partner nations there.
"There's nothing more challenging or rewarding than working with a partner nation and seeing their improvement over time," Weikert said.
The partnerships and exercises build trust and confidence, he said, and that can translate into "access" when it's most important.
This year, the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, or CAB, of the Texas National Guard participated in 36 partnership engagements in the CENTCOM area, Weikert said. The CAB participated in the inaugural Exercise Desert Talon with the United Arab Emirates. And the brigade conducted a number of partnership activities over the year with the Kuwaiti Air Force.
The 1/4th ABCT, known as the "Raider Brigade," illustrated the level of partnering and variety of missions that RAF forces undertake, Weikert said.
Upon deploying in February, brigade leaders thought they would be working primarily out of Kuwait, but Weikert said the BCT had to expand to cover everything from theater security cooperation engagements to contingency response throughout the region.
The ARCENT Regionally Aligned Forces are allocated to the command and deploy for a year, Weikert said. In a couple of weeks, the 2nd Brigade of 4th Infantry Division, is scheduled to rotate into Kuwait, and that brigade will replace 1/4th to conduct RAF engagements in CENTCOM.
In addition, ARCENT has also assigned units such as the 160th Signal Brigade, and the 4th Battlefield Coordination Brigade, to form partnerships in theater, Weikert said. He added that Military Information and Civil Affairs units also conduct partnerships, which enhance understanding between the U.S. and nations in the region.
ARCENT is also developing a RAF "Community of Purpose," Weikert said. This will provide a "closed-loop learning model" for units that will deploy into theater and provide insights through lessons learned for units that will conduct RAF engagements in the future.
In January, ARCENT units will participate in Exercise Inferno Creek and work with the Royal Omani Reconnaissance Brigaed in Oman.
Units from the 82nd Airborne Division, are scheduled to participate in Exercise Bright Star in Egypt.
In addition, the National Guard continues to conduct state partnership programs, or SPP, with CENTCOM nations, participating in SPP exercises, exchanges and other engagements.
As part of the National Guard's SPP, the Arizona National Guard has been teamed with Kazakhstan, since 1993. Additionally, the Colorado National Guard has a partnership program with Jordan, and has conducted 29 engagements this year, Weikert said.
The Mississippi National Guard has a partnership program with Uzbekistan. The Virginia Guard partners with Tajikistan, and the Montana National Guard has a partnership program with Kyrgyzstan.
Leveraging partnerships is an economical and effective way to pave the path for the future in the CENTCOM area, Weikert said. He said Regionally Aligned Forces will continue to expand in the region.