Bogota, COLOMBIA--Readiness. The Army chief of staff made it clear this is the #1 priority. Active engagement with partner nation armies is key in remaining ready to meet the ever-changing challenges of today and tomorrow.

U.S. Army South, the Army service component command to U.S. Southern Command, knows well the benefits of strong partnerships as displayed during the 7th annual U.S.-Colombia bilateral army-to-army staff talks in Bogota, Colombia April 11-14.

"The most important aspect of these talks is the relationships that we've built and fostered between our two great armies," said Maj. Gen. K.K. Chinn, U.S. Army South commander. "I'm always excited to come down here, not only because of the friendship, but more importantly, to see all the good things the Colombian army is doing for its nation, its soldiers and for its army overall."

The U.S. Army Staff Talks Program serves as a bilateral forum for strategic-level discussion between respective armies. The program seeks to promote bilateral efforts in order to develop professional partnerships and increase interaction between partner nation armies.

U.S. Army South's engagement focus with the Colombian army at the operational level includes four primary areas: strengthening capabilities to defeat terrorist threats, countering transnational organized crime, enabling key capabilities to facilitate the transition of the Colombian army to an enduring post-conflict environment, and supporting its transformation to an interoperable global strategic partner.

"This was a very good opportunity for the Colombian army," said Gen. Alberto Jose Mejia, Colombian army commander. "It's an honor to host these staff talks, especially during this precise point in our history in which our army is going through many changes."

Army South, as the Army's executive agent, engages in annual bilateral staff talks with Colombia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador and Peru. During these talks, the U.S. Army works to develop agreed-to-actions with our staff talks partners in an effort to work together in the future toward common goals. ATAs can include anything from joint engineer projects, exchange programs between elite military schools, subject matter expert exchanges, doctrine exchanges, research and development cooperation and working together in simulated exercises.

After signing the official agreement, Chinn said he was pleased with the end result.

"These ATAs are a testament of Colombia's strong, professional army that is capable and has continued to protect the people of Colombia," said Chinn. "The Colombian army provides stability and economic growth, allowing it to be a role model as a professional army and an example for the region in defeating emerging threats, exporting security, transformation, working with interagency, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and leader development."

Though the agreed-to-actions are the focus of the meetings, Chinn said the staff talks are about something much bigger.

"It's an opportunity for us to build relationships and trust with each other as we look at emerging challenges and threats throughout the region," said Chinn. "What's important is that if an emerging challenge occurs, we feel comfortable enough to pick up the phone and call each other, and we have a teammate or friend on the other side of the phone who asks 'how can we help?'"

According to Mejia, trust with your partners is key to ensuring the staff talks process is successful in making better Armies for both nations.

"Throughout these talks, I'm very candid in expressing my views and sharing our knowledge," said Mejia. "Presenting not only our strengths, but also our weaknesses is the only way you can identify ways to help each other. If I pretend that everything is fantastic in our army, we wouldn't achieve our goal of excellence."

Taking part in this year's bilateral staff talks with Colombia was Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr., The Adjutant General of the South Carolina National Guard that routinely partners with the Colombian military as part of the State Partnership Program. Livingston said the exchange of information is truly a two-way street, as the U.S. Army has much it can learn from its Colombian counterpart.

"We enjoyed the exchange of information," said Livingston. "We have a lot to learn from their great successes and there are some things that we may be able to share. It's a wonderful opportunity for our two armies to continue to make history for this region of the world."

After the closing ceremony for these 7th annual bilateral staff talks, leaders from each army shared handshakes and hugs with their partner nation counterparts--friends. Mejia closed out with a few parting remarks as the room stood silent, hinged on his every word.

"The formality of this meeting and the active participation that you've seen here is a demonstration of respect, a demonstration of how we honor the U.S. Army and U.S. Army South, but especially the level of friendship and confidence that we all have in Major General Chinn and his great team," said Mejia. "When you think of the hemisphere, remember that here in this corner of South America, in Colombia, you have a trusted partner, a trusted army and trusted Soldiers who would go with you any place, anytime."