GUATEMALA experienced civil war for decades until 1996, and because of atrocities its military once committed against its own people it suffered U.S. sanctions that affected the education, training and financing of its military, said COL Linda Gould, commander of U.S. Military Group, Guatemala.The MILGROUP includes three U.S. service members. They help plan exercises, distribute money from the United States that's earmarked for training and educating Guatemalan military personnel, and secure slots for Guatemalan soldiers to train at U.S. military schools, among other duties [see related story].Bordering Mexico and El Salvador, Guatemala sits in a real-world hotbed of smuggling operations that involve drugs, weapons and even people. Much of the contraband crosses Guatemala en route to Mexico, where it continues its journey into the United States, according to U.S. State Department reports.Peacekeeping Operation North 2006, a computer-generated war game held recently at a convention center in Guatemala City, combined many of the region's real-world problems to create a realistic training scenario involving several hundred computer simulations from some 800 available in a scenario database, said Roger Astin, U.S. Army, South, scenario manager.Based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, USARSO plans and executes PKO North and other exercises in Latin America and the Caribbean as the Army component of the Florida-based U.S. Southern Command.PKO North has been conducted in various Latin American countries annually since 1995 to promote cooperation among the participating nations' military forces - or police forces in those countries with no military forces - and to improve readiness and interoperability, said LTC James Rose, chief of USARSO's Tactical Exercise Division.USARSO runs three foreign military interaction exercises annually, Rose said. PKO North (Central America and the Caribbean) and PKO South (South America) are based on United Nations peacekeeping operations. Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias is based on a disaster-response/humanitarian-assistance scenario. In 2006 the exercises were held in Guatemala, Peru and Honduras, respectively. [See related USARSO missions story.]Directed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and sponsored by USSOUTHCOM, the joint- and combined-services, multinational PKO North 2006 exercise involved some 450 participants from 22 countries, as well as representatives from such nongovernmental groups as the American Red Cross and the Organization of American States, and members of the United Nations, including human rights advocates and experts in DDR - disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating former rebel forces into society.Among U.S. players were special-operations units, National Guard Soldiers from the Maryland-based 220th Military Police Brigade and Alabama's 167th Theater Support Command, and Army Reserve Soldiers from Texas, Puerto Rico and Arkansas.U.N. police forces were played by actual national police personnel from countries that don't have standing armies, said USARSO scenario officer Astin. Among those countries are Haiti, Grenada, Panama, Costa Rica and the Bahamas."We work closely with the U.N. to incorporate recent experiences, lessons and priorities from actual missions around the world," said Astin. "That keeps the exercise fresh and relevant. This year, in addition to the usual peacekeeping themes, participants are confronting leadership issues regarding 'gender mainstreaming,' womens' rights and even peacekeeper misconduct. Our scenarios challenge all of the exercise participants to truly 'think outside the box,' realizing that not every situation has an immediate resolution based on an existing regulation or manual."The exercise co-directors were Guatemalan army Brig. Gen. Carlos Alberto Villagran de Leon and BG JosAffA,A Mayorga, USARSO's deputy commander for support. As JTF commander, Villagran de Leon was in charge of four sectors, including a remote "cell" located in Coban, about a four-hour drive from Guatemala City. Coban is the site of the Guatemalan Regional Training Center, where four nations are currently each contributing a company of soldiers to form a battalion that can respond to crises around the world.A joint exercise control group interjected training events via e-mail messages, role-players, telephone calls, and simulated radio and TV newscasts into the "game," prompting "players" to react.The joint U.S. services' responses included a fictional maritime interdiction in response to smuggling operations, said Navy Lt. Cdr. Doug Ross.Players "got more thrown at them here in one day than they would in four days of a real-life operation," said Mayorga.In the exercise scenario, leaders arrived in a fictional country called Boria, a nation whose military forces had disbanded. There was no security force, and the weak republic suffered from endemic corruption. Crime, including drug trafficking and the smuggling of weapons, ammunition, gold and diamonds flourished.The leaders of U.S. military units and those of coalition nations "arrived" ahead of their "troops" and in the aftermath of a fictional typhoon. Civil war raged in another fictional country, neighboring Rogan, and was fueled largely by the Rogan Liberation Army, which smuggled contraband into the country from Boria.Joint Task Force-Boria, when it stood up, would have to deal with myriad events related to a recently secured peace treaty, ethnic conflict, gender discrimination, human-rights abuses, an arms embargo, black-market sales, gang violence, multinational coordination and cooperation, and disaster response.Leaders got the heart-jolting situation report at a realistic press briefing, complete with newscasts that included borrowed statements from U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice - speaking in reference to some actual event in the past - video clips of smuggling operations and other insurgent activity in the region, and the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers, also taken from a real-world mission.Also created by USARSO's audiovisual office, with the help of students majoring in communications at Guatamalan universities, was a press briefing with exercise officials. It was inserted into the presentation for realism and helped to train commanders to speak to the media.Players prepared for the exercise by familiarizing themselves with numerous exercise documents available - in both English and Spanish - via a Web site. They included U.N. peacekeeping operations publications, field manuals, resolutions and handbooks.COL Chris Gentry, deputy commander of the 220th MP Bde., said the 15 Soldiers from his brigade headquarters who served as the joint land forces component command - controlling all the land forces in the fictional Boria (about 7,000 notional troops) - were actually doing what they do as a headquarters element.At the same time USARSO supported the exercise, it trained its own Soldiers. For example, SFC John Walker from the USARSO G-3 Plans office was the exercise request-for-information officer. He answered many questions posed by participants and relating to the exercise scenario.Walker was still reminiscing about an exercise highlight the night before the exercise began - a cultural-day event sponsored by the Guatemalan army, which included a tour to Antigua, the first capital of Guatemala, dinner and a presentation of regional dances by costumed dancers at Antigua's cultural center."How many people get to mingle with the local people the way we did last night and share a part of their culture'" Walker asked."Events like this one build friendship, trust, respect, cooperation, and familiarity with the land and its people," he said.USARSO is responsible for helping maintain peace in all of Central and South America, and for supporting JTF-Guantanamo Bay operations in Cuba.Eleven Latin-American nations are currently involved in peacekeeping operations around the world, said Rose. Brazil, for example, is in charge of operations in Haiti.The more other nations participate in operations such as these, the more it helps reduce the burden on the United States, he said.(Editor's note: This story was first printed in the September issue of Soldiers magazine.)