BANGKOK, Thailand - The United States Army Pacific and Royal Thai Army co-hosted the fifth and largest iteration of the Senior Enlisted Leader Forum (SELF V) in Bangkok, Thailand Sept. 9-11, 2019.
This year's forum ran concurrently with the Indo-Pacific Army Chiefs Conference (IPACC) and Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS), with the theme being "Achieving Sustainable Security: A New Perspective for Indo-Pacific Armies." Senior noncommissioned officers and warrant officers representing 19 nations joined the co-hosts during two plenary discussions and one breakout working group that were all tied to the this year's theme.
"The standard has been set with this year's SELF," noted Command Sgt. Maj. Benjamin Jones, CSM, USARPAC and lead host for the forum. "There is no doubt that the last couple of days have been very rewarding and productive for the senior leaders across the Pacific."
The purpose of the events is to promote trust, understanding and cooperation among land forces in the region and through the dialogue armies will enhance their relationships and continue to work together to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The topics covered during the plenaries were "Developing Trust among Indo-Pacific land forces to reduce risk and conflict" and "Developing resiliency through leadership and professional development." The SELF's breakout Syndicate expanded on the topic of leader development and examined the subject through the lens of the "Wild Boars Football Team Rescue" last year.
Sergeant Major 3rd Class Chalermphol Seebudee, Intelligence Sergeant, 5th Special Forces Regiment, Royal Thai Army explained how the leader development and resiliency skills he and his fellow SF team members gained through training enabled them to adapt to solve a complex problem and overcome the tragic loss of a teammate to continue toward the successful recovery of the Thai youth who were trapped in a flooded cave for several days.
The senior enlisted leaders attending the SELF agreed that the topics were very relevant to their role in the military.
"I have a lot of take-aways from this year's forum," explained Warrant Officer 1 Joeli Rabuli, Republic of Fiji Military Forces. "The resiliency and leader development topics were very important to me and will help me as we are trying to build our NCO development program from the ground."
Rabuli noted that his army does not currently have an NCO development program. With the help of other senior enlisted leaders he has met, at this and previous SELFs, he is developing a plan to implement an NCO leader development program in the near future.
The attendees all agreed that the most notable difference for this year's SELF was the level of attendance and representation. The number of nations represented this year doubled from the previous year.
Jones attributed the increased attendance to consistent engagement and promotion of the forum, by not just the U.S., but also the other nations' senior leaders with those in the region who have yet to attend. He believes this increased attendance will greatly assist in sustaining a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
"There were a lot more participants this year and that gives us all a greater perspective," said Chief Warrant Officer Stuart Hartnell, Sergeant Major of the Canadian Army. "The most important aspect of attending this forum is strengthening and developing our mil-to-mil relationships. When we maintain a strong relationship it helps us avoid any misunderstandings."
A primary factor in avoiding conflict and sustaining security is constant engagement with other armies through training, joint and multilateral exercises and at events like IPACC/IPAMS/SELF. The majority of the relationship building this week took place outside the formal discussions and panels held during the conference and occurred during the bi-lateral and multi-lateral meetings between various attendees.
As one of the most experienced senior enlisted leaders in the region, Jones' meetings were at times mentorship and professional development for some of the newer senior enlisted members. At other times, they were peer-to-peer discussions to find opportunities for mutual support and exchange between their armies.
"I believe it is important for us to encourage our regional partners to work together," explained Jones. "And that means they don't always have to include the U.S. [Army]. Strengthening their networks helps us meet our objectives for the region, without committing U.S. Forces."
Due to his mentorship and influence in the region other nations are now taking the initiative to start their own regional senior NCO forums. Just this year New Zealand hosted a large senior enlisted forum modeled after the SELF and it included several neighboring countries as well as others from outside the region.
The first SELF was held in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2013 and was held biennially with the Pacific Army Management Seminar. After last year the forum transitioned to an annual event. Next year's SELF will be held along with IPAMS and co-hosted by the Philippines.