Throughout the third week of June, military engineers representing the United States, Columbia, Chile, and Peru came together in Washington D.C. during National Level Exercise 22 (NLE22) with the goal of collaboration, strengthening partnerships, and sharing best practices for disaster response.
Hosted in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) headquarters, the week started with a briefing of the NLE22 scenario, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the pacific-northwest region of the United States along a prominent fault line which has similarities to some of the fault lines found throughout South America.
“Having our partner nations from South America in attendance during the NLE22 scenario allows USACE the opportunity to share how we provide technical assistance, engineering expertise, and construction management to prevent, prepare for, and respond to disasters,” explained Maj. Gen. Jeffrey L. Milhorn, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Deputy Commanding General for Military and International Operations. “More importantly, it gives our countries the opportunity to learn from each other because together engineers achieve more.”
Following the NLE22 scenario briefing, U.S. Army South engineers engaged with their South American counterparts in smaller breakout sessions focused on the more in-depth aspects of disaster response including two emergency support functions, public works and engineering as well as search and rescue.
Chilean Army Col. Jose Llanos, Assistant Defense Attaché at the Chilean Embassy in Washington D.C. was grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with other countries.
“In my point of view, it is important how USACE partners with other countries and how their system stresses the importance of equality between nations,” he said as the first day concluded. “Being from a smaller country, sharing information is beneficial and makes responding easier and since we all have the same disasters regardless of the size of our country and everyone benefits from these meetings.”
Throughout the smaller sessions, the conversation drastically increased as each nation's representatives asked questions and provided input focused on the aforementioned topics, furthering the shared understanding of what it takes to successfully respond to a major disaster while working with local, state, and federal agencies.
“It was a great experience being able to compare what we have in our army to everyone else here,” said Peruvian Army Lt. Col. Yizack Abensur, Commander of Rapid Response Battalion 21, Natural Disasters and Multipurpose Brigade. “I am a tactical level commander right now and what we see here is operational, so I am happy to take what I’ve learned back home and make recommendations to my superiors and apply what I’ve learned.”
The importance of this week’s focus on engineer activities is only a small portion of the larger mission of U.S. Army South, which includes providing a Joint Task Force-capable headquarters to respond to emergent requirements and tasked contingency plans.
“It is important to build upon the already strong partnerships between our nations,” stated Colombian Brig. Gen. Hernando Garzon, U.S. Army South Deputy Commanding General - Interoperability. “We conduct events like this throughout the year with many countries throughout South America and the end result is always the same, a deeper understanding of one another and a stronger partnership between nations and armies.”
Colombian Maj. Gen. German Lopez, Colombian Embassy Defense Attaché in Washington D.C. further explained that, “working together at all levels and in all activities makes all of us stronger and this week furthers our commitment to the partnerships we have built over many years and enhances our ability to come together when faced with major national challenges such as a natural disaster.”
The relationships which were strengthened between nations during these short few days were further enhanced by the personal relationships that were built between the representatives as they took time in the evenings to enjoy meals together and take in the sights of Washington D.C. including a look at the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building.