By Staff Sgt. Keith AndersonMay 30, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas - A small group of American Army exchange officers in Canada are doing everything from training Canadian forces to serving in tactical, operational and strategic positions in the Canadian Armed Forces supporting missions in Libya, Afghanistan, the Arctic and elsewhere.
The group of 21 American Army officers and noncommissioned officers spent a week at U.S. Army North from May 14-18 to assess the military personnel exchange program and for "re-greening."
"It's an assessment, which is mandated by regulation; all security cooperation programs undergo an annual assessment," said David Morrison, Army North's Military Personnel Exchange Program manager. "We also bring them home for 're-greening' so they can get annual training, medical and dental care, take an Army physical fitness test, get their Department of the Army photos, get replacement uniforms and equipment, and many other garrison support functions."
Worldwide, more than 100 U.S. Army Soldiers serve in foreign exchange positions, Morrison said.
Serving as an exchange officer in the Canadian Armed Forces has been a rewarding and interesting experience for many of the service members who attended Army North's MPEP conference.
Sgt. 1st Class David Gonzalez, a geospatial engineer, was working with in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, when his branch manager notified him that he was eligible to work in Canada.
"I came back from Iraq and had an email from branch saying I was chosen," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, a San Antonio native, was selected to teach courses for enlisted Canadian "geomatics technician" soldiers at the School of Military Mapping at the Mapping and Charting Establishment in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
He said the assignment is very different from being an instructor at a U.S. Army advanced individual training school.
"It's very open, there," Gonzalez said. "Everybody uses first names, and they don't form up. It's a civilian school in Ottawa -- Algonquin College. At the end they get two-year degrees."
Gonzalez said his kids Alexis, 18, and twins David and Cathryn, 16, are adjusting to life in Canada.
"They get teased a little in school, being from Texas, but they like it there," Gonzalez said.
There are some challenges to living and working in Canada, said Maj. Brent Sobkowiak, who is working as a planner at a Canadian combat brigade in Steel Barracks, Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada.
"How do I get a Canadian driver's license and license plates?" Sobkowiak asked, to illustrate some of the things he's had to figure out, adding that there are also some professional challenges.
"One of the biggest challenges is understanding the equipment set," Sobkowiak said. "They have less equipment and cycle it to different units to accomplish missions. Also, if you don't actively participate and ask for stuff to do, you can end up under-utilized."
Sobkowiak, a native of La Crosse, Wis., said the MPEP position has been a rewarding experience -- both personally and professionally.
"I'd definitely recommend the assignment," Sobkowiak said.
The Canadians appreciate the MPEP officers, Morrison said.
"The Canadians place a high value to the contributions MPEP officers make to their organizations," Morrison said. "They appreciate the expertise, experience, skill, enthusiasm and value of our Soldiers -- what makes us stand apart from our allies."
We have learned from the Canadian exchange officers serving in America, too, he said.