FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- History was made during a momentous planning conference between representatives from the U.S. and Canadian militaries Nov. 18-20 here.
The CANUS Training Work Group, as it is known, came into being when Gen. Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and his Canadian counterpart, Lt. Gen. Marquis Hainse, Commander of the Canadian Army, signed an "Army-to-Army Engagement Strategy" which identified Army North and the Canadian Army Doctrine Training Center as the commands responsible for designing and integrating training between the two nations.
While the two nation's militaries have a long history of working with each other, this is the first time they formally came up with a joint training plan.
The conference, attended by planners from U.S. Army North as well as representatives from various components and commands within the American and Canadian forces, focused on developing a three-year joint training plan supporting both nation's military and defensive objectives.
"The key conduit of this forum is to develop our three-year bi-national training program," said Canadian Army Maj. Kevin Barker, Canada-Bahamas branch chief. Barker currently serves as the Canadian Army liaison officer at Army North. As part of the conference the attendees will confirm training for 2015, coordinate training for 2016 and identify training opportunities for 2017.
"We have always depended on each other," said Lt. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general of Army North. "We need to maximize training events so they best meet the needs of both of our countries."
Most of the training opportunities between the two nations will take place via national or regional exercises in the two nations.
"The U.S. Army is planning on sending about 1,000 Soldiers to Maple Resolve in May and Canada is going to send troops to participate in next year's Vibrant Response exercise," said Barker. However there are also plans to conduct reciprocal unit exchanges between the two nations.
Maple Resolve is Canada's largest yearly military exercise and Vibrant Response is major disaster response exercise conducted by U.S. Northern Command and led by U.S. Army North.
Other bi-national training opportunities will take place during regional exercises. "We are planning on bringing a company-size group of U.S. Soldiers to participate in Exercise Western Defender," said Capt. Jake MacLean, 3rd Canadian Division. Western Defender is an infantry-focused exercise featuring reserve Soldiers from western Canada.
The inter-nation training will follow a two year cycle of observing then training. "The first year we will send observers to watch the training," said Lt. Col. Tom Newton, CADTC. "The following year we will send officers and noncommissioned officers to participate in the training."
While Canadian forces have frequently observed and participated in U.S. exercises in recent years, there hasn't been as much American participation in Canadian exercises. The members of the working group hope to change that.
"Training opportunities should not always be about us going south," said Newton. "There are lots of opportunities in Canada."
One of the reasons the two nations are so keen on continuing to train together is because the strength and security of the two nations depend on each other.
"We have such a long history of working together," said MacLean. "We use the same equipment; have similar SOPs (standard operating procedures) - we want to keep the knowledge fresh so we don't have to relearn it."
In addition to a long history of cooperation in peace and war, the US and Canada also share more than 5,500 miles of border.
"We share the longest undefended border in the world," said Barker. "When something happens in the United States, it affects Canada, and when something happens in Canada it affects the U.S."
The next CANUS Training Working Group will meet in Ontario, Canada, in November, 2015.