5th SFAB ACOET Media Roundtable

By U.S. Army Public AffairsSeptember 23, 2022

Moderator- Jason Waggoner:  All right everybody, I’m showing that it is 11:00 o’clock now so we’re gonna go ahead and get started. I’m Jason Waggoner with Army Public Affairs and welcome to the 5th Security Forces Assistance Brigade Media Roundtable. Today’s panel members are Col. Jonathan Chung, the 5th SFAB Commander, Command Sgt. Major Willie Langus, he is the 5th SFAB Command Sgt. Major and Major Bill Leisure, he is the SFAB’s PAO.  You all should have received a copy of the panel member bios along with the unit information and mission slides. If you didn’t get them, please let me know after this and I will get those to you as soon as possible. Col. Chung will provide brief opening remarks and then we will get to your questions.

But first we have to go through today’s ground rules. All comments today will be treated as “on the record”, please identify yourself and your news organization prior to asking a question. Only one question and follow-up per person to allow time for others to ask questions. If you have more questions and time allows, please email those to me for follow up. And today, please understand that with current world events there is going to be some questions the panel may not be able to answer. If that is the case they will tell you that and we respectfully ask that we move on to a different question. And finally, we have 30 minutes for this engagement. We may not be able to get to all of your questions based upon the number of folks who have RSVP’d but if we don’t get to your question, please email those to me and I will get you a response back as soon as possible. And with that I am going to turn it over to Col. Chung for his opening comments. Go ahead, Sir.

Col. Jonathan Chung: Hey team, this is Col Jon Chung, Commander of 5th Security Forces Assistance Brigade. I want to thank everybody that has dialed in for giving us an opportunity to share our story. Just a bit of who we are, the 5th Security Forces Assistance Brigade remains one of the newest Army tactical formations. We activated in May of 2020 out of Joint-Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. We began sending advisors into the Indo-Pacific in August of 2020 and today we have sent up to 20 teams at any one time across 14 different locations with regional partners in the South-Southeast portions of Asia, Northern portions of Asia and part of Oceana. I look forward to sharing our stories about our advisors and I would like to extend an open invitation to all of you to come out to Joint Base Lewis-McChord to see how our advisors train and prepare or better yet get an opportunity where you can meet us across the International Dateline and really showcase our advisors in action. Sgt. Major and I recently just completed a trip into the AOR, we got an opportunity to see our teams that were forward, get to engage with some our partners where we continue to see the value of building trust in our partnerships where we are learning from each other every day. Our advisors are building critically important relationships across all key stakeholders but most importantly with our allies and partners and this network of relationships is the greatest counterweight to the growing influence of U.S. adversaries in the region and at the end of the day, everything we do, our objective is peace and our goal is no war and we increasingly find our partners echoing the same sentiment. Thanks again for this opportunity and we really look forward to answering your questions.

JW: Okay, Sir, thank you for that. I am going to open up with Chris Woody and then we will go to Zamone Perez and then Andrew Eversden. So, Chris get us started.

Chris Woody: Hi. Thank you for your time today. So, I wanted to ask about the Maneuver Advising Team in action with partner country, the few of those country have relations with China, Thailand and specifically you conducted an exercise with Chinese Air Force in August.  So, did those relationships affect the level at which you are able to engage with those partner countries with operational security concerns that you had to navigate?

JC: Hey, Chris I really appreciate that question and it is incredibly important. You know, the first thing I would say is every opportunity that there is a country and this is really important region where you have over 30 countries, if they desire to partner with us we absolutely look forward to that opportunity to build that relationship. Our intent as we work with every one of these countries is not to be the partner of choice but to be a partner of choice and we recognize that a lot of these partners do have the challenges that you’ve indicated where they do work with other competitors based on some of the material equipment that they have and some of the other challenges they have with infrastructure or some of their economies. And that’s why it is really important for the advisor teams that we place in that location, that we understand as they are building these relationships they are moving at building trust at the speed that the partner desires. I appreciate it, thank you.

CW: Thank you.

JW: Ok, next we move on to Zamone and then Andrew and then to Corey Dickstein. Go ahead, Zamone.

Zamone Perez: Hi, Zamone Perez from Military Times, thank you for your time. I was just curious, you mentioned 14 different locations, do you have or can you name any of like the partners you’ve been working with in the past year and then also do you see like Chinese and Russian military trainers competing for these same relationships and how does that work?

JC: Hey, sir, I really appreciate the question. So, the first part is, I’ll answer the second piece is we absolutely know that there is other competitors within this region. When we saw one of the things that we had an opportunity as our advisors are working in there just in the midst of when you had the global pandemic, we knew that some of these partners already had existing exercises or had some opportunities to conduct some training and when those other competitors or adversaries that chose to no longer to show up, we saw that as an opportunity, even in our Army ethic when we talk about building trust, it is character, confidence and commitment. And through commitment we demonstrate care, connection to get to that commitment and really during a time where they have asked us to consider quarantine and their procedures as they navigated through COVID we saw it as an opportunity to show our willingness to build a partnership. One of the great examples with that is what we’ve seen in Indonesia. And in Indonesia we’ve had a Maneuver Advising Team as well as a Fires Advising Team that has worked with the Indonesian Army and over that persistent presence of up to 24 months, we’ve seen a relationship between a Captain and a Sergeant 1st Class work with key leaders up to being the Chief of the Indonesia Army, General Andika who then later on became the Chief of Defense and that relationship and persistence presence allowed us to help increase that relationship and really resulted in an army exercise that grew from just being a bilateral army to army to help with the initiative of growing that to multinational that involved over a dozen countries. On top of that, this Maneuver Advising Team of a Captain and a Sergeant 1st Class also helped with our U.S. counterparts and other partners that came in from 7th Infantry Division and 25th that brought everybody together to make that an incredibly impressive exercise in that magnitude. Thank you.

JW: Did you have a follow up Zamone?

ZP: Oh, I was just wondering if there are any partners you can name, like specifically, but he kinda got to that. Thanks.

JW: Okay, thank you. We will move on then to Andrew, then Corey and then to Karoun with Washington Post, so go ahead Andrew.

Andrew Eversden: Thank you so much for doing this. Andrew Eversden with Breaking Defense. Can you talk about what specific capabilities you are training your partners on out in the Indo Pacific?

JC: Hey Andrew, that’s a really great question, I appreciate this. So really when if you came across the International Dateline today you would see our advisors really doing three things. Number One it is immediate needs tactical advising.  What that means you would see an advising team that is working at their readiness centers very similar to what you see in our combat training centers and National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California or at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk. So rotational units from platoon up to battalion size in different locations, getting opportunity to work with them, to train, understand how their knowledge and doctrine as they work through maneuvering exercises as well as an opportunity to see them and evaluate through this training evolution. You’d also see what we call institutional capacity building. We’ve been asked by a lot of our partners to integrate into their Centers of Excellence, so their version of Training and Doctrine Command schools, where they have asked us to sit down and say, can you bring some noncommissioned officers to help teach and show, education and involvement of how to continue to professionalize their education. Ask us to partner at their Centers of Excellence at their engineering schools, or at their infantry schools where we talk through tactics or we talk through initial marksmanship, or we talk through tactical combat care. And then the third piece of this is we work through enhancing our posture and for us that is really an activity set, that is equipment, and we are trying to make sure based on the invitation of the partner and what they are asking us to do, that we have the equipment available so we can help meet their desired needs based on what they are asking the partner with at that training event. Thank you.

AE: Just a quick follow up, what, can you give us a sense of what the demand signal is out there for the SFAB’s advisors are all 20 teams constantly deployed are only half out there, what is the demand signal look like?

JC: Yeah, that’s a great follow-on question. As we are a new organization going on 24 months, we continue to see the increased demand for more and more increased partnerships for those that we’ve already established initially and we’ve also seen initial, increased access for other partners who also want the increased demand of advisor teams that we have. We balance that demand based on the nested priorities that our U.S. Army Pacific Commander, General Flynn has laid out for us. So, as we focus the majority of our work there is a lot of demand in the South to Southeast regional area, there is a demand for partnership up in the Northern, in the Mongolia, Japan, Korea area and there is also a demand in the Oceana portion of this and we, based on the prioritization to align with General Flynn’s priorities, we ensure that we meet those demands and make sure that we can place this finite resource of an advisor team with the right partnership. Thank you.

JW: Thank you, sir. Next will be Corey and then Karoun and then we will go with Karli Goldberg. Go ahead, Corey.

Corey Dickstein: Yeah, Corey Dickstein with Stars and Stripes. I was actually gonna ask the question that was just asked. But, can you talk a little bit about, you know, how long are your soldiers typically deploying for, are they and the preparation cycle that they go through before they deploy to help train these partner nations?

JC: Hey, Corey I really appreciate that question and it is an important one that we love to share. So, when we assess and select those that are volunteering to serve in the Security Forces Assistance Brigade, we ensure as we go through our assessment process, number one that they volunteer. Two that they have already completed their Key and Developmental or Career Developmental Positions so a Staff Sgt that has already served an infantryman an example would be as a squad leader or an Sgt 1st Class as a platoon sergeant or a company commander as a captain, they go through a process up at HRC to screen for any type of derogatory information and then they go through an ascension process. Our goal is to try to get these individuals to serve in the SFAB within 36 months. We see life in the SFAB at six months at a time. So, if John Chung showed up that first six months would at what we call foundational training, this is where you get integrated into your team. We focus on our competences of shoot, move, medicate, communicate, and advise. We then transition after that team is certified in a readiness training event, certifying the team and then we move into collective training in the next six months. At that end of that collective training which is a certification training exercise then they end up employing across the Indo-Pacific area of operation into a six-month time-cycle. So, as we say six months at a time, six months for foundational, six months for collective and six months in point. That is an 18-month what we call a term. And that second time that would be the reason why we desire when we hire folks that they are there for 36 months. Why would they not work for 36 months because a lot of these highly qualified selected individuals get selected for promotion, they get hired for other opportunities and if they get promoted we move them on to their other professional military education schools or any other opportunities that they would have so they continue to progress within the military. A really important questions, thank you.

JW. Okay, next we will move on to Karoun, and then Karli and then we will go to Jen Judson. Go ahead, Karoun.

Karoun Demirjian:  Hi, this is Karoun Demirgian with the Washington Post. So, I wanted to just ask you about training in the aftermath of the recent crisis in Taiwan. Do the flare-up that we saw in August, has that changed, or caused to reassess or change your training priorities, has it caused the countries with whom you are partnering to ask for a different sort of training or equipment or advice and counsel as a result of what we saw in that flare-up last month?

JC: Hey, ma’am I really appreciate the question. At the end of the day, we continue to, you know, exercise the operations activities investments that have been desired based on the partner. What they’ve seen across world events both across the Indo-Pacific whether there are security cooperation challenges that they’ve seen against the line of actual control, whether it is in the South China Sea, whether it’s, you know, bilateral security agreement that’s happened in the Soloman Island really there has been two opportunities as I’ve mentioned before, one was with COVID were we recognized quickly that we were the partner that was able to work through any of their challenges and continued to work through anything they desired. And secondly, a lot of these partners have seen what is witnessed over in the European Theater and they have also recognized the importance of the valued partnership. You know, when we talk about what our advisors are doing it is really important to understand the importance of land power and this is an area where you have seven of the ten largest armies and these armies live on the land and what we share with folks is, you living on the land is the opportunity to build this relationship and share this currency of trust, or currency of our profession called trust within the human terrain. So, thank you very much.

KD: Could I follow up just because I understand, I mean that you’re talking about a wide array in that answer of various global changes, but specifically with your allies, specifically in Taiwan that was a very major event. Has that changed any specific like acts or specific plans for the regional training that you are doing with the partners that are in that neighborhood?

JC: Yes, ma’am. Everything that has happened within the region and then specifically what you’re talking about in those recent events, we’ve not changed anything in terms of our operations, activities and investments. Everything is still aligned and nested to the desire and the pace of our partners. Thank you.

JW: Okay, thank you for that. Next we’re gonna go to Karli, and then Jen Judson and then to Fadi Mansour. Go ahead, Karli.

Karli Goldberg: Good morning, sir. For my first question, I’m curious, the Twitter page talks about how Maneuver Advisor Teams by your Team 132 spent six months training in Indonesia recently and I was curious what the main takeaway from the past six months has been and how you will apply that to moving forward?

JC: Yes, ma’am that’s a great question and it is great example of the Maneuver Advising Team. So the challenge of Indonesia, it is over 17,000 islands and really the success that they have seen for this specific team is the essential buildup of continued increased partnership and fostering of trust in a relationship that is really a culmination of great work of several teams, not just the Maneuver Advising Team that you’d asked about over the past two years. But specifically in this Maneuver Advising Team they recognize there was an Army bilateral exercise called Garuda Shield and this team, the team leader and team sergeant worked with the leadership of the Indonesian Army to specifically focus on working with the units in the Indonesian Army that were going to participate in this exercise. They also worked with 7th Infantry Division leadership as well as the 25th to then bring all those folks together as this exercise moved quickly within four months from going to an Army bilateral exercise that involved over a dozen national participating, observing, multi-compo as well as increasing other services, so what this advising team has done over the past six months is really been a key connector in a larger portion of something that was, you know, a big display operationally as a campaign rehearsal in the southeastern portion of Asia. Thank you.

JW: Karli, did you have a follow up?

KG: Thank you, yes, I have a follow up just, not related to that question, but in regards to how things in the Indo-Pacific might be influenced by what we see in our other areas across the world that the Army has a presence in. I’m curious in the news recently we have been seeing in the past month that Ukraine has regained several thousand square miles of its territory back. I am curious as China is our pacing threat for our Army when there are changes between and given, I guess Russia’s partnership with China in general, when there are changes with the war going on in Ukraine, do we feel any ripple effects of that in your theatre and if so, how?

JC: Yes, ma’am. That’s a great question and as I mentioned previously, a lot of our partners have recognized and seen what has been displayed on the world stage. General Flynn references the term integrated deterrence that moves from our National Security documents all the way through in our integrated country strategies and as well in the campaigning. And as he defines integrated deterrence in really four categories. Number one is capability. Two is posture. Three it is messaging and four it is will. And really in the capability what we offer is really there is two parts to that, there is a material and a nonmaterial solution or opportunity. And in that nonmaterial we as advisors look specifically at the change of saying there is an opportunity to do training and there is an opportunity of iterations on planning, but most recently we also see partners that ask the questions of what they’ve seen overseas and as they work through the discussion of the other three parts, they have asked to share anything that we have seen or anything that they have asked, they have then used that as an opportunity to see if that relates to anything that they have within their area as well. So, we see again, as I mentioned, COVID and the discussion they’ve seen in open sources about what was happening in Ukraine as an opportunity to increase our level of partnership and commitment to what we’re doing with our partners in the region. Thank you.

KG: Thank you, Sir.

JW: Okay, next we’ll get to Jen, then Fadi, and then we will go to Catalin Kenney. Go ahead, Jen.

Jen Judson: Thank you so much for taking the time today to talk about this.  So, General Flynn often point to the fact that there is no NATO in the Pacific and obviously there won’t be so, relationship building is extremely critical in INDOPACOM and this is clearly what you’re trying to do. So, what are you accomplishing with these relationships specifically and what will you be doing with some of these countries in FY 23? So, like how are you expanding your efforts and then, you know, it looks like potentially you will be working with more countries in 23 so if you could kind of expand on that and also what are some of these things these countries are wanting specifically from these relationships.

JC: Yes, ma’am. That’s a great question. So number one I would just reiterate what General Flynn talks about is, number one the greatest counterweight to any pacing threat or any security cooperation challenge in this area is building this network of allies and partners. He recognizes quickly and we reiterate the same thing, we will not be able to, we will be challenged to measure them in mass, measure them in resources, and as already established them interior lines. So, the way we end up doing this is it is a persistent presence of building a relationship in the human terrain, specifically which you’ve asked is the example of what is happening in Garuda Shield, so an advisor that works specifically with an actual unit. That may start as a toehold being, hey I’ll work at a combat readiness center, that relationship may move to then work with an operational unit. That operational unit may then be aligned to an exercise. Meanwhile there is other strategic engagements that are happening to take that exercise and bring more partners and so when something turns into multilateral, multiparter, multinational that becomes a representation of something that is a different look that the competitor or adversary is not seeing. And our challenge is how do we take something like Garuda Shield or Super Garuda Shield and replicate that in different locations. A Super Talisman Sabre in Australia, a Supra Cobra gold in Thailand, a Super Yudh Abhyas in India and specifically when we partner at the lowest levels our advisors get a chance to see the benefits of what we increase access and what they are asking for and increased exposure to their readiness centers and operational units in the training management and home station training. But when you get an opportunity and build a relationship within a individual like General Songwit who is now moving to be the Deputy Chief of Defense in Thailand, and then he offers to say, let’s talk about and showcase in a symposium about the last 24 months of this advising effort and invite other countries that we may not have access or you don’t have access to yet, like Cambodia. Thank you.

JW: Okay, we are going to move on to Fadi, and then Catalin, and then we will go to Ashley.

Fadi Mansour: Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity for doing this. I actually have 2 questions. I mean, integrated deterrence is a major part of the strategy in the region, and I’m thinking about types of challenges when it comes to internal capabilities especially some nations have capabilities when it comes to weapons systems that are different from what the U.S. Army has. So how do you deal with that part and then the second question is, I understand that SFAB has an advisory role but does this role extend to kinetic operations, a couple of nations in the region maybe more have insurgency issues, are these advisory teams involved in such operations? Thank you.

JC: Hey, sir appreciate the questions. So, number one interoperability is a challenge and what I would offer and our advisors demonstrate through their persistent presence is partnership working together. They may be using equipment that is not familiar or the same thing that we are using, but the study and finding the common ground through our doctrine tactics we are able to share how they are able to then apply some of the things that we are providing some assistance on in tactics and techniques that they can use and employ with their own capabilities of material solution. And then the second piece is we are, as an advising unit, so as we talk about the umbrella of security cooperation that is any Department of Defense activity that supports U.S. policy and their security assistance and security force assistance. We are a very small part within the security force assistance piece of this and we are working right now within competition but we are always working to prepare ourselves for crisis and bells that we would move to conflict. But right now as you asked the question, we are only working with our partners in competition. If there are policy decisions or changes of authorities if those come down from our senior leadership then we would look at adjusting what we would be doing in increasing our role obviously based on the desire and request of our partners. Thank you.

JW: Okay, thank you for that, sir. Next we will go to Caitlin. Go, ahead.

Caitlin Kenney: Hi, Catlin with Defense One. So, you talked a lot about what you are teaching, you know, your allies and partners but I was interested in what are you learning from them on how to conduct operations and on their equipment and then in general how does this, you know, this work that you guys are doing, how does this help the Army overall prepare for potential conflict in the Pacific. Thanks.

JC: Hey, ma’am that’s a great question. Number one is we have learned from a lot of different partners their attention to detail when it comes to very specific preparation so, they may be an army that has a lot of checklists or precombat checks but they are very diligent and they have demonstrated that and a lot of them in that will to prepare. They have also demonstrated to us the importance of operating within this environment. General Flynn share as story openly that talks about a lot of times we are very quick to showcase a technology or a capability that we have and he shared this story because he mentioned this to a senior partner leader and that senior partner leader mentioned to him we will never be able to have that capability but then he pointed to the jungle and said but you’re gonna need us for this. And so our advisors have taken that opportunity to learn from them, culturally to understand how to better operate within this environment because we know there is different challenges, logistically how to build relationships and how to build unity of action for folks that are not within the unit of command. And I think understanding the environment best in a terms where there is a challenge at time distant analysis, and you are dealing with multiple different countries where you don’t have representations like in a theatre of Europe like NATO, building these relationships and showcasing and sharing is what is helping us prepare ourselves for crisis. It goes back to the importance of creating the greatest counterweight which is this network of allies and partners. Thank you.

JW: All right, thank you, sir. We will move on to Ashley. Go, ahead.

Ashley Roque: Hi, good morning. I have two follow-up questions from previous questions. The first one is: are you, can you give us sort of an example of a partner nation sort of making a request and sort of the way of the flare-up with Taiwan of what their additional capability or trainings they’re seeking?

JC: Yes, ma’am. I would use Thailand as a great example. Thailand is an example that is recognized not as what is happening, you know, in Taiwan but other security cooperation challenges all throughout the entire region. They see what is happening in the line of actual control, they see what is happening in the South China Sea and they understand as they have requested years prior, you know, four military cells to gain the use of Strykers and now with Strykers they have asked for increased opportunities of touchpoints, training, logistics, partnerships to move this organization to really become a showcase of modernization. And they know that is important and the more that they end up building this relationship with the U.S. that they will move that organization further and further. They have also seen a great opportunity to leverage the experience of working with our noncommissioned officers to share our Best Practices of how we grown a professional noncommissioned officer corps.

AR: Great, thank you. And just another question, just sort of in the wake of the ongoing war in the Ukraine, are there internal lessons learned or changes you’ve made within the SFAB sort of as you’ve been learning and potentially from fourth SAFAB that you could share with us?

JC:  Yes, ma’am that’s a great question. And I think that when everybody sees an event like that on the world stage, and especially in a critical job where we have advisors that are working with so many different partners in all these different regions across the Indo-Pacific, we really have the discussion about the importance of training and the importance of the will to prepare. Thank you.

JW:  Ok, thank you for that, Sir.  Showing that we have reached the end of our 30-minute time period. I apologize if we didn’t get to your questions but as I mentioned earlier if you do have some questions get those over to me and we will get you a response as soon as we can. I would like to thank you all for attending today and enjoy the rest of your afternoon. Thank you.