Part of the mission of the Security Assistance Command is to develop and manage security assistance programs and foreign military sales to build partner capacity. A key partner is the Ministry of Interior in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Military leaders at U.S. Army-Military Assistance Group provide the strategic vision to help the command provide technical knowledge and advice, skills and resources to help protect the Kingdom’s critical infrastructure.
The current top two leaders at USA-MAG are Col. James Zanella and Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Strasser. Together they bring over half a century of Army leadership.
“USA-MAG’s strategic impact has to be measured over the duration of the program. A significant majority of the current (KSA’s) Facility Security Forces generals and field grade officers have participated in USA-MAG programs over the years,” Zanella said. “Our training courses here in Kingdom provide opportunities for our partners to learn about American values and culture while also acquiring military skills.”
“Partnering with the FSF is certainly beneficial to the United States from a strategic impact point of view,” Strasser said. “We are assisting them in being prepared to protect their critical infrastructure across the entire Kingdom. Whether it is oil fields or government facilities being protected, for example, the protection of those sites has an impact on the United States from an economic standpoint, as well as the rest of the world. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been one of our strongest allies in the region and protecting the internal facilities leads to stability.”
Working in a foreign country, as a guest but also as a partner, requires knowledge and skills gained from both education and experience. Zanella studied military history at West Point, but also earned a master’s in international relations from Troy University. “That historical foundation served as a good knowledge base, (however) I reinforced the decision to pursue foreign affairs in 2011 when I started the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I earned their master of military art and science degree in 2012,” he said.
Also, the Soldiers serving at USA-MAG go through the Foreign Area Counter Threat run by Security Assistance Training Management Organization at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. That course exposes them to general and basic cultural and situational matters. A welcome packet is sent to Soldiers that contains basic information of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and local customs.
“When we receive the Soldiers here in country, they are briefed by their leadership and their translator and cultural advisers on the specifics of their missions,” Zanella said. Soldiers are well-prepared for cultural matters that may arise in their military duties there.
Strasser, who assists in the welfare of the personnel, sees three top tasks to accomplish while at USA-MAG. These are to first develop the team, second to refine the instruction and assisting the FSF in developing long range training objectives, and third, to focus on providing the resources for the team.
“There has been a large amount of turnover and many delays in hiring personnel due to COVID restrictions,” Strasser said. “We are currently in the process of hiring personnel to fill out our team. That is the most important task to accomplish in the coming months.” By hiring and developing the team at USA-MAG they will “be successful in their mission here as well as with their families back home.”
Training activities build relationships and trust with the Saudi Ministry of Interior. “The FSF is my mission partner here in Saudi Arabia,” Zanella said. “Training, regardless of the audience, builds trust among teammates over time. This is true for sports teams, and it is also true for military teams. The bonding and teamwork that happens from shared experiences and hardship last. So, our training engagements with our Saudi partners build trust one FSF NCO and officer at a time.”
USA-MAG (formerly known as MOI-MAG) is based in Riyadh, where U.S. service members and Army civilians provide advice and assistance in training, engineering and explosive ordnance, and lead the International Military Education and Training program for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior. USA-MAG is fully funded by the government of Saudi Arabia through foreign military sales cases executed by Security Assistance Command.