LANDSTUHL, Germany - Partnership for Peace is a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-led program that began in 1994. The goal of the "in the spirit of" program was to improve security cooperation between NATO and partner countries in Central and Eastern Europe. On May 12, officers and two squads of Soldiers from Charlie Company 53rd Signal Battalion spent a day at "Combined Endeavor," the world's largest military communications and information systems exercise and a Partnership for Peace event. The conference, which was conducted at Camp Aulenbach in Baumholder, Germany, was sponsored by the United States European Command (USEUCOM) and hosted by Germany.

Combined Endeavor began in 1995 as a conference between 10 central European countries. The aims of this first conference were to establish basic communications interoperability at the most rudimentary level. The greatest success of that first year was merely to get these countries to come together and discuss military communications with one another. Since its inception, Combined Endeavor has slowly grown from an initial 10 nations to 41 nations. By 2008 Combined Endeavor had spread to include both the German Army Base of Lager Aulenbach and Loval Naval Facility, Split Croatia. It has also grown to include NATO and the South-Eastern Europe Brigade and nations as disperse as the United States, England, Spain, Macedonia, Italy, Afghanistan, Germany, Switzerland, Ukraine, Bosnia and the Kyrgyz Republic. Many of these nations have histories of conflict between them, some in the more distant past and some in more recent days.

The main mission of the 2008 Combined Endeavor was to develop command, control, communications and computer (C4) interoperability between NATO and Partnership for Peace nations. This mission was implemented through a series of exercises designed to test and document C4 interoperability, explore management issues within a multinational network and gain knowledge and experience in planning between nations. The overall objective was to come away with a guide for deploying separate nation's communication equipment to operate in a multinational combined network. This year's main focus was Everything over Internet Protocol.

The Soldiers of Charlie Company are Satellite Network Controller's and saw this operation as a great opportunity for cross training not only with communication systems of their own military but with those of many different nations.

The morning of May 12 started as the Soldiers and Officers met at their site in Landstuhl, Germany to board a bus and make the forty-five minute journey to Lager Aulenbach in Baumholder Germany. Upon arriving at Combined Endeavor, Charlie Company was treated to a briefing detailing the goals and scope of the exercise. The Soldiers learned that despite all the technological advancements of the last thirteen years, the base concern for the operation to be a success was human interoperability. With forty-one nations represented, the level of cultural and technological diversity was high. However, the planners' experience led them to the conclusion that before the communication systems could be made to talk to one another the Soldiers and the civilians of the individual nations must converse on a very human level. This concept greatly influenced the attitudes and activities of Charlie Company throughout the day.

After the initial in-briefing, Charlie Company was broken into small groups and encouraged to go where our whim took us. Since Charlie Company was represented by all ranks and military occupational specialties, the whims of these small groups varied greatly. Some groups went straight to the top and observed the high level interoperability exercises. Other groups went out to mingle with the operator of specific countries and learn at a more hands on level.

It did not take the Soldiers long to discover the true goal of Combined Endeavor: human interoperability. Yes there were many experiments and exercises designed to integrate many nations' communication systems into a combined network, but on another level there was the need for the operators to move from nation to nation and to work on a personal and hands on level to accomplish these exercises. The Soldiers of Charlie Company quickly learned that hospitality and cultural awareness were as important as cables and radios. As the Soldiers moved from tent to tent and asked questions about the different communications equipment being used by each nation, they also found that with technical knowledge also come cultural knowledge and many times a sampling of that nation's foods, beverages and sense of humor. Whether it meant drinking tea with British soldiers or eating prosciutto ham with the Italians or hearing familiar military humor from the Bulgarians, all the Charlie Company members present learned the importance of actually getting to know those they talk with over a complex multinational communications network.