JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – In March 2020, members of the Washington National Guard were deep into the Bersama Warrior staff exercise with their counterparts in the Malaysian Armed Forces in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, the COVID-19 virus was beginning to spread rapidly around the world. Shutdowns went into effect, stay-at-home orders were issued and travel bans were put into place.
“We got over there, got halfway through the exercise, and then due to COVID, we had to do an emergency evacuation,” recalled U.S. Army Lt. Col. Scott Fieldman, exercise planner for Bersama Warrior. “We got on planes and left the country and left the exercise half complete.”
For a year and a half, exercise planners tried to salvage the progress made in March 2020. They finally settled on a virtual event held in Hawaii, Washington and Malaysia Nov. 10-19, 2021.
Bersama Warrior, an annual bilateral joint exercise hosted by the Malaysian Armed Forces (MAF) and sponsored by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, is designed to enhance U.S. and Malaysian defense readiness and strengthen the State Partnership Program relationship between the MAF and the Washington National Guard. This iteration of Bersama Warrior provided a unique opportunity to incorporate members of the 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The 5th SFAB conducts, trains, advises and assists missions with military partners overseas and is aligned with U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“Bersama Warrior was an important exercise for the 5th SFAB as elements of our brigade staff and elements of our Force Package 21-2-I came together to work with our neighbors here in Washington, the Guardsmen from the Washington National Guard and, of course, our partners with the Malaysian Armed Forces,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. David Hampton, commander of 5th SFAB Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 5th Security Force Assistance Brigade. “This type of planning is critical should deterrence fail and we would need to conduct multinational operations in the future. We are grateful for this opportunity to work with our joint and multinational partners, these relationships are critical to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
For the Washington National Guardsmen involved, it was a chance to continue building on their relationship with their friends in Malaysia.
“We all wish we could be with our Malaysian partners in-person, but there is a lot of value in sharpening our skills with remote platforms,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Johan Deutscher, deputy commander for Bersama Warrior and Washington National Guard director of the Joint Staff. “Years from now, I think we will look back at this time and see the many ways the pandemic forced us to develop and improve, and virtual capabilities are among the most important of those.”
The staff exercise provided a venue for exchanging ideas, tactics and problem-solving while demonstrating U.S. resolve to support the security interests of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region. As the exercise began, the staff from all three locations were able to come together to develop courses of action that will serve as the basis for the command post exercise scheduled in June.
“That is why Bersama Warrior is so important,” said Deutscher. “It builds our relationship, increases our interoperability and sharpens our skills as we struggle through a very relevant and realistic scenario.”