With over 140 monitored relationships with countries and security organizations around the world, the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command manages thousands of foreign military sales cases and does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
This past week, 13 military representatives from partner countries, otherwise known as security assistance liaison officers, visited Redstone Arsenal for briefings, presentations and discussions with the senior leaders and country program managers at USASAC.
The USASAC team at New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, has been prepping for this SALO visit for roughly a month, and they shaped together a packed itinerary for each of the officers, including a catered luncheon, breakout sessions and an axe-throwing team building exercise. Each stressed how important it is to build trust with SALOs and understand their culture to better support the partnership and foreign military sales cases.
“We are charged to have a relationship personally between the CPMs and the SALOs, professionally between the staff and the SALOs and publicly between the countries and the SALOs,” Brig. Gen. Brad Nicholson, USASAC Commanding General said. “It’s all about Army-to-Army relationships, and I want to be involved in them. I am here for that very reason. I understand the unique challenges, especially being remote from your own culture or having information presented in a different language. I am sensitive to that, but what makes it work is relationships. We must establish an open line of communication.”
This visit gave each officer the opportunity to have a face-to-face time interacting with other countries to effectively manage foreign military sales cases and create more engaging relationships with those involved. Due to the pandemic, in-person meetings have been more difficult to execute between officers and their country program managers. However, this in-person visit was greatly appreciated by all because it allowed for meaningful conversations without communication barriers. Everyone was in the same room and had the same opportunity to use their voice in discussions surrounding each country’s FMS cases and how they can modernize their programs one step at a time. It was more engaging than any virtual session held.
“It’s all about the face-to-face encounters, sidebar conversations and transparency. You can’t feel that sort of energy or body language from a screen.” Terra Good, SALO program manager, said.
The officers agreed that they were each able to improve the quality of their relationships by walking through foreign military sales cases in person. With time marked out for one-on-one engagements between the general and the regional operations directors, Good had put forth a strong agenda that catered toward every relationship needed to improve enterprise success. Additionally, these encounters allowed for the exchange of cultures and traditions, just like the officers’ annual International Buffet Thanksgiving Potluck held in New Cumberland.
“I had never met my CPM in person. It’s being face to face that you can’t replace,” Capt. Melissa Bryan, SALO for Canada, said. “Being here puts a face to the process when advocating for each of our countries.”
“I am grateful to be here. I have had lots of formal communication with my CPM virtually, but I did not think that I would have the opportunity to be sitting next to him in person eating lunch and talking,” Lt. Col. Athanasios Natsios, SALO for Greece, said.
SALO visits are important because officers get to collaborate with each other to garner a better understanding of the unique foreign military sales processes carried out with USASAC. They get to create new methods to strengthen the initiatives USASAC is taking in both the office at New Cumberland and Redstone. Good transformed this entire SALO administrative support program into a great resource for all parties. She ensured the delegations had escorts throughout the USASAC facilities and that transportation between each scheduled exercise during the day was taken care of for smooth transitions.
“We’re hoping for these visits to become an annual thing,” Good said. “It’s the key engagements with senior leaders and understanding how they support FMS processes that can better help and serve countries through effective communication. It’s very rare to be engaging with the division level and beyond, but we are already seeing the overall dynamic improve by interacting with these other sections and people.”
By having these 13 officers from partner nations speak with each other and hold discussions about their respective countries FMS cases, they were able to find similarities in their structures and work toward solutions to strengthen the initiatives together. Col. Leonardo Bastos, the first Columbian Army SALO, found this visit especially helpful.
“Many of our countries have issues in common, so having the opportunity to talk about these internal issues and learn how to mitigate them is important,” Bastos said. “Being here improves the opportunity to talk openly about our regional operations in a controlled environment with formal communication.”
Our CPMs gave full insights to USASAC’s approach to enduring relationships between the U.S. Government and partner nations by “relying on trust and teamwork, transparency, and the total package approach,” Col. Stephanie Barton, chief of staff, said. “It is so great to all be in the same room together getting to have these meaningful conversations and face-to-face encounters once again.”
Nicholson expressed his eagerness to grow this SALO program into a more robust curriculum and have the officers stay for a full week in their next visit. In Nicholson’s time working as a liaison officer for the Australian Army when he was deployed in Afghanistan, he had an insight into the structure of other organizations and the methodology behind each decision made in foreign military sales cases.
“I worked in other U.S. Army headquarters, and I found that the CPMs were an under-utilized resource,” Nicholson said. “I understand it, and it’s hard. It’s an extra step, but the benefits will be two-fold what you put in it.”
The officers and their country program managers were enthusiastic about creating a more authentic schedule of check-ins, so each will be held accountable to give updates on a regular basis. Whether this be a greater number of virtual interactions between the SALOs and their CPMs or more in-person visits scheduled to interact with the local military and civilian communities, each party hinted that a more systematic approach may be helpful.
Officers were told that USASAC would help “manage their organization from cradle to grave,” Camille Hodge, country program manager for the SOUTHCOM/NORTHCOM regional office, said. “We manage everything up front, so we are not waiting on waivers. We want to get it right the first time.” This includes running real-time reports.
Dr. Myra Gray, deputy to the commanding general, expressed her excitement for this program and seeing it continue to advance with each visit.
“CPMs are a focal point that SALOs can address for any issues,” Gray said. “It is ultimately the execution piece in FMS cases. I would love to see this program grow to twice its size.”