Despite the pandemic that has affected the global environment, U.S. Army South as the Army’s Executive Agent, has maintained its role of conducting bilateral staff talks with partner nations in the U.S. Southern Command’s area of responsibility to strengthen the command’s professional relationships and create training opportunities in the Western Hemisphere.
Although the coronavirus has cancelled scheduled training and exercises throughout 2020, military planners for Army South and the Chilean Army are focusing ahead to 2021 as the two armies concluded the 15th Annual U.S.-Chilean Army Staff Talks, held virtually Nov. 16-18. The U.S. Army has engaged in annual bilateral staff talks with Chile since 2006, which have been instrumental in enhancing the interoperability and cooperation between the two armies, contributing to increased security and stability in the region.
Maj. Gen. Daniel R. Walrath, Army South commanding general, expressed his regret to the senior Chilean Army leadership for not conducting the staff talks in person due to the pandemic. On behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army, he highlighted the significance of the event to increase regional security.
“Our nations continue to work together and serve as beacons of hope, fidelity and prosperity in this hemisphere during these difficult times,” Walrath said. “These staff talks not only represent our friendship and partnership between our two countries and two armies; but also continue to increase the readiness and interoperability of our forces.”
Chile served as the host for this year’s staff talks and proposed 45 Agreed-to-Activities in the areas of logistics, public affairs, military intelligence, cybersecurity and military-to-military exchanges. One of the key agreements was the approval of an infantry company from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division to conduct mountain training at the Chilean Mountain Warfare School in Chile as part of the Southern Vanguard exercise in 2021.
Walrath mentioned although the U.S. Army has sent individual soldiers in the past to Chile to train, he reiterated the previous staff talks in 2019 Army South intended to move from an individual instruction to a collective unit training opportunity.
“I know the 10th Mountain Division is excited to return to a mountain environment and learn from your soldiers on how to operate and fight in this terrain and cold weather environment,” Walrath said. “We appreciate your army’s willingness to accommodate and allow not only individual instruction but also the opportunity to operate as a unit alongside your Chilean mountain units.”
Lt. Col. Michael Woolvet Vila, representative of Chilean Army Operations, agreed with Walrath that reengaging bilateral activities with the U.S. Army was important, especially since many were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must continue creating these friendship bonds and interoperability opportunities so that our soldiers will learn and share training with each other,” Woolvet said. “Our mountain soldiers will turn over their best experiences to the 10th Mountain Division, and we are sure that the instruction and training experience exchange will increase our capabilities in order to boost interoperability.”
As the Chilean liaison officer assigned to Army South, Col. Jorge Salinas said the staff talks are beneficial to his army’s relationship and partnership with the U.S. Army and Army South because it allows both armies to discuss mutual concerns and issues.
“For Chile, it’s important for us to maintain this relationship because we look forward to working together with the United States,” Salinas said. “This year has been very difficult for us to accomplish our agenda, so these staff talks were special. We are excited and looking forward to new opportunities in 2021 where we can train together face-to-face.”