AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Senior enlisted leaders from U.S. Army Pacific and eight regional and partner nations attended the first New Zealand Army Senior Enlisted Leader's conference here July 7-11.

The conference, intended to be held biennially from hereon, afforded participants the opportunity to share their personal experiences, leverage future collaborations, and build a network of multi-national senior enlisted professionals.

"It is an honor to bring eight nations together for the first time to discuss important topics and share experiences related to our enlisted corps," said New Zealand Sgt. Maj. of the Army Warrant Officer Class 1 Clive Douglas. "The NCO corps is the backbone to support our commanders and we are here to set a pathway forward of working together and strengthen our relationships."

The conference is a professional development forum that provides opportunities through open dialogue with combined, joint and regional partners discussing the key roles of land forces within the Indo-Pacific region. Attendees are able to share knowledge and strategic thinking within defense environments in an academic setting.

During the four-day conference, senior enlisted leaders from USARPAC, Australian Army, Republic of Fiji Military Force, Papua New Guinea Defence Force, His Majesty's Armed Forces [Tonga], Singapore Army, British Army and Jordanian Armed Forces were invited to speak during the conference.

Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, USARPAC's senior enlisted advisor, was one of the speakers amongst the collective combined and joint forces that shared their knowledge to attendees.

"I was able to hear from all of the Senior Enlisted Leaders throughout the Indo-Pacific region and also shared USARPAC's focus for the future," said Jones. "This provided great collaboration, interoperability, and information sharing with our allies and partners to enhance our ability to work together as a unified force in the Indo-Pacific region."

The U.S. Sgt. Maj. of the Army designee Michael A. Grinston also highlighted the importance of the forum.

"These conferences help build trusts with our allies and partners and are key to the U.S. Army's overall strength," he said. "When we need to call upon them, we can trust that they will be ready to support us like family."

New Zealand Army Sgt. Thomas Grant, also New Zealand's Soldier of the year, interviewed Grinston on professional development, personal insights and life advice.

"You are the heartbeat of the defense force, and opportunities to share ideas and learn from each other don't come around every day," said the Honourable Ron Mark, New Zealand Minister of Defence. "Being here will make you better leaders, and that will flow on to your respective defense forces."

New Zealand's culture was showcased with a reception at the Auckland War Memorial Museum. Invited guests were formally welcomed with a traditional Maori ceremony known as a pōwhiri.

"It is my honor as the 15th warrior of Ngāti Tumatauenga [New Zealand Army] to stand here before you in front of the warriors and Rangatira [chiefs] of the New Zealand Defence Force and our local people to welcome all of our internationals, who traveled far to get here," said Douglas.

This is the first SEL conference hosted by the New Zealand Army.

"This conference is a wonderful opportunity to share your experience and for others to learn from each other's organizational innovations in training and best practices," said Mark. "We look forward to the future operating environment as a coalition."