HOHENFELS, Germany (Army News Service, Sept. 16, 2008) - American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand ground forces held an opening ceremony for "Cooperative Spirit 2008" Friday at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.

The ceremony signaled the start to the ABCA Armies' month-long training exercise. About 1,800 troops from the five nations are participating in a variety of training, including cordon and searches, downed aircraft recovery, provincial reconstruction team operations and live-fire scenarios. Officials said Cooperative Spirit will primarily focus on the interoperability of equipment and the exchanging of tactics and procedures between the five-nation coalition.

"Interoperability, in my mind, is the ability of all of us to look each other in the eye to make orders and directives and to understand one another and to go out and complete missions together," said U.S. Army Col. David Funk, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "Our Army continues to fight ... and we don't fight it alone."

Although goals for all the nations are the same, there are still trials that must be overcome.

"The biggest challenge to interoperability is that while ABCA nations share similar values, each has a distinct national identity and ways of doing business," said Australian Col. Shane Amor, the chief of staff for the ABCA program. "Each of their armies brings different capabilities to the pot. Understanding those differences, communicating and sharing information, and tactful integration of the five armies is a challenge, but is essential to achieve cohesion and mission success."

The training begins with squad and platoon-level training, and gradually builds up to multinational integrated brigade-level operations and missions.

Not only are the mostly infantry Soldiers honing their infantry skills, but the troops will also participate in a variety of civil affairs projects, including building up local, notional economies with the aid of coalition forces and establishing reclamation projects such as schools and hospitals. The missions will be conducted so as to help troops understand the full spectrum of operations they may encounter, officials said.

Cooperative Spirit 2008 is particularly designed to test the interoperability of command and control information systems, working together in a counterinsurgency-based environment. To accomplish this, the units will perform a variety of tasks such as detainee handling and improvised explosive device defeat techniques, tactics and procedures.

"ABCA is five like-minded nations who have been working together for a long time ... working together to work out interoperability issues," said Lt. Col. Geoff Parker, commander of 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment.

The U.S. Army has several units taking part in the month-long training exercise, including the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division; and the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, both from Fort Lewis, Wash. The infantry battalion is an organic element to the Stryker Brigade and they both have deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, most recently returning in September 2007.

Soldiers from the Utah Army National Guard also are participating in the multinational training. The unit provided security for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. In addition, the Soldiers supplied humanitarian relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The 1st Welsh Guard will participate as representatives from the United Kingdom. During the last five years the unit has deployed to Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Kosovo.

The Canadian Army presence will be shown by the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment from Gregg Barracks, Gagetown, Canada. Since 2004 the unit participated in operational activities in Afghanistan and Haiti.

Also taking part in the training will be the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, from Townsville, Australia. Within the last decade, the unit has seen operational service in East Timor, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Iraq and Afghanistan.

A company of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, from Burnam, New Zealand, will also partake in the coalition training. Since 2000 the unit has served in Bosnia, Bougainville, East Timor, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Created in 1947, the ABCA Armies' Program initially consisted of the American, British and Canadian Armies. In order to take advantage of the close-working relationships these three nations shared during World War II, a pact was signed to signify their willingness to continue the well-built and defined union.

As the century progressed, the three nations would recognize the Australian and New Zealand Armies as permanent members in 1963 and 2006, respectively. Today, the ABCA members form an organization echoing similar national values and defense goals.

For additional information about Cooperative Spirit 2008 and the ABCA Armies Program, go to www.abca-armies.org.

(Staff Sgt. Tony White and Spc. Opal Hood serve with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)