By Erin O. Stattel, Army News ServiceMay 6, 2011
ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, May 6, 2011) -- A delegation from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently returned from China and its leader discussed how military exchange programs may be helping build common understanding and trust between the two nations.
Fresh off of his April trip to China to visit with People's Liberation Army, or PLA, counterparts, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Dorko, deputy commanding general for Military and International Operations for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, called the 12-day visit a "trip of a lifetime."
"We toured Beijing and stood in Tiananmen Square, visited their military's engineering school and then went through the west of the country. It was part of an effort to build trust and a relationship with China, and now I'm looking forward to the upcoming musical performances from the PLA band and The U.S. Army Band."
The People's Liberation Army Band will visit the United States this month as part of the military exchange program and perform a series of joint concerts with the U.S. Army Concert Band, an ensemble of "Pershing's Own."
In China, Dorko met with officials including PLA Maj. Gen. Yang Xu Ming, deputy director of the Training and Arms Department; PLA Assistant Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Chen Yong, and Col. Wang Hong Guo, commander, Engineer Regiment, Chinese International Search and Rescue, known as CISAR, based in western Beijing.
While at CISAR, the USACE delegation was able to observe a static display of vehicles and equipment, and a demonstration of CISAR military working dog teams and the unit's response to a disaster.
The trip reciprocated a visit from members of the People's Liberation Army in 2010. Chinese engineers visited the U.S. a year ago, Dorko said, and seeing familiar faces set a good tone for the trip.
"About a year ago we hosted them and we showed them some of our procedures used in response to Hurricane Katrina, the engineering school at Fort Leonard Wood and our progress at the time on the new hospital at Fort Belvoir, (Va.)," Dorko said. "Now that we have had a few exchanges, we have started to build personal relationships."
That feeling of a budding friendship lends itself well to the military exchanges between the two countries, Dorko said.
"Over time, we send formal invites, but as we get to know each other, maybe those formalities can break down," he said. "We have to work together on disaster relief efforts and it is important we educate each other and participate in these exchanges."
Trust building is essential to building a relationship with each other, Dorko said.
"The goal here is to build trust and establish relationships and since both of our armies are interested in disaster responses we can learn and understand a lot about each other," he said. "Building understanding can help reduce the idea of mistrust."
"We know now that we have better ways to integrate on common issues and talk to one another," Dorko explained. "The more understanding between the two countries means the less chance for mistrust."
The trip revolved around a theme of national response framework, complimenting what the Army Corps of Engineers presented to Chinese counterparts in 2010.
"China sees itself now the way the U.S. saw itself about a decade ago on the water platform," Dorko said. "Here USACE plays a unique role and we have a lot to exchange with the Chinese. We have issues such as maintaining the environment and using hydropower in common."
Part of the trip included educating the Chinese about the roles USACE plays within the U.S.
"Helping them understand the idea that we deploy our uniformed personnel with our great civilians to build and maintain infrastructure goes a long way to helping them understand our motivations here in the U.S. to protect our infrastructure, our environment and our economy. It builds trust," he said. "By seeing how both countries respond to disasters we see that we are both motivated by selfless service and we become better at what we do by seeing them do their job, and I am sure they learned something from us as well."
The team traveled through Tiananmen Square in Beijing and drew some surprised looks from Chinese nationals.
"In Tiananmen Square some people were surprised to see American military officers walking around and they asked us why we were there, only to be surprised after hearing we were there to learn from the Chinese military. That drew a lot of smiles," Dorko said.
Continuing with water issues and hydropower, Dorko met with the Ministry of Water Resources of the People's Republic of China to share experiences and talk about similar efforts in hydropower technology, as well as other water issues.
The delegation also visited the port of Nanjing, the Hohai University and Nanjing Hydraulic Institute, which included a tour of the facility where reduced scale models are made of rivers and dams to measure flow, output and other scientific data.
"With their water ministry we had the opportunity to discuss the Three Gorges Dam, which puts out about 22,000 megawatts of power," he said. "The scope and scale of this dam is just astounding, and to speak with them about how they leverage hydropower was a real opportunity."
Dorko said both countries have much to learn from each other because both are dealing with many of the same problems and challenges in both countries.
"Both the U.S. and China share seats on the board of directors for the World Water Council and there will be instances when we will have to work together in relief efforts for natural disasters, so it is important that we build a relationship," Dorko said. "It was a real opportunity to see the Yangtze River and for us to talk about all of our similar efforts and issues. We have issues like silt depositing in common since that is a big challenge they have and it is an issue we deal with."
After meeting with Chinese engineering officers and students, Dorko and his team then traveled throughout the country touring sites such as the Sichuan Province, the site of the 2008 earthquake, which, according to reports, claimed the lives of as many as some 68,000 people.
Dorko described that part of the trip as moving.
"The town we visited has been preserved in a way," Dorko described. "Some of the buildings that are leaning have been secured and the town is like a shrine to those who perished. The Sichuan earthquake, while tragic, was a great testimony to the heart they have for their people."
Dorko said at that moment, watching his Chinese military counterparts overcome with emotion while surveying what was once a thriving community full of fellow Chinese citizens, there was a common bond between them all.
"There is a common humanity between us," Dorko said of his Chinese counterparts. "We share this common interest to carry out our missions and take care of our people."
The military exchanges will continue throughout the month of May when the People's Liberation Army Band will join The U.S. Army Band, "Pershing's Own," for a series of concerts kicking off with a private performance at the Kennedy Center May 16, 2011.
The bands will move on to perform public concerts in Philadelphia May 19, 2011, at the Academy of Music and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City May 21, 2011. A private performance for the United Nations General Assembly will also be part of the visit.