FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- U.S. Army South hosted the annual U.S. Army Section Chief and Military Personnel Exchange Program Conference at the Army South headquarters here March 4-9.The conference gathered ARSECs stationed in more than 25 countries from throughout U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility and representatives from U.S. military organizations throughout the United States."I think the most important thing about this forum is that it allows U.S. military representatives in various countries to speak face-to-face with each other," said Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, the Army South commanding general.Conference participants have an opportunity to better understand how to synchronize their efforts in support of the Army South mission and the ARSEC's partner nation army programs and activities while gaining regional focus and insight and the ability to facilitate future coordination. ARSECs are foreign area officers assigned to partner nation countries to act as a direct link between the U.S. Army and partner nation militaries and to serve as a singular point of contact within American embassy country teams to coordinate and deliver all army-to-army assistance. They are typically selected as foreign area officers after serving approximately seven years in their respective career fields. Once selected, they undergo up to four years of specialized training to ensure they have the language, and foreign area cultural and technical skills to perform the tasks requested of them.Once training is complete, they begin their two-to-three-year assignment as an ARSEC. Given the remote nature of their assignment, the ARSEC/MPEP conference offers the participants a chance to gather valuable networking and situational awareness training to carry out the Army South mission, commander's intent, and address regional issues with key agency resources and officials."They can become isolated within each country and this conference gives everyone a chance to have a better regional perspective as to what we do collectively and to find solutions to common challenges," said Trombitas.Trombitas said his headquarters staff also finds the conference advantageous, especially during the "synchronization station" portion that facilitates one on one interaction in order to synchronize projected activities and responsibilities."It's very beneficial not only to the ARSECs but to our headquarters staff who are able to sit face-to-face with the individuals down range and learn firsthand about any issues they're having," said Trombitas.The conference included round table discussions with Army South staff participation to promote regional situational awareness, provided a forum for ARSECs and MPEPs to interact directly with the commanding general and garner more insight into his strategic vision and priorities and to coordinate forum for staff and key agencies to brief their duties, functions and organization to participants.A new addition to this year's conference included Self Defense/Captivity Avoidance Training in which the conference participants learned to defend against common chokes, grabs, and bear hugs, as well as weapons such as guns and knives.