By Mr. Robert Ramon, U.S. Army South Public AffairsMarch 12, 2013
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (March 11) -- As part of the effort to achieve the chief of staff of the Army's vision to strengthen relationships and improve interoperability with partner nations, U.S. Army South utilizes the Military Personnel Exchange Program (MPEP) and Army Section Chiefs (ARSECs) throughout the Western Hemisphere.
In the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) AOR of Central and South America and the Caribbean there are Soldiers working in the MPEP and as ARSECs in more than 25 countries. Army South, the Army service component command for SOUTHCOM, works closely with ARSECs and Soldiers in the MPEP to synchronize and coordinate efforts working with partner nations.
"Basically, the MPEP is about exchanging experiences with the host nation army and developing and strengthening partnerships," said Sgt. 1st Class Tony Marinez, a U.S. Army NCO serving with the MPEP in Bogota, Colombia. "My main goal is to build partner capacity, interoperability and relationships between the U.S. and Colombian armies."
According to Army Regulation 614-10, Army Military Personnel Exchange Program with Military Services of Other Nations, the MPEP objectives are to support the Army Security Cooperation Strategy and Army Campaign Support Plan, strengthen alliances and coalition partners by building partner capacity and maintaining or enhancing relationships in support of a global strategy.
The MPEP is typically a one-for-one exchange of personnel that takes place between the U.S. and partner nation armies. The individual is integrated in the host-nation's military in positions commensurate with their grade and qualifications. The length of the tour may vary from 12 to 36 months, but average about 24 months.
As a senior noncommissioned officer, Marinez said his goal is to help to strengthen the Colombian army's NCO corps.
"In the U.S. Army, the NCOs conduct most of the Soldier training and carry out most of the daily duties; while in Colombia, the officers do all of those things," said Marinez. "My goal is to show them that they can rely more on their NCOs and give them more tasks. This way the officers can use their time orchestrating other missions they might have."
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.
"In most simple terms, I'm the guy who goes out and talks to the partner nation military, listens to what needs it has and what areas it wants to work with us," said Lt. Col. Steven M. Winkleman, the U.S. ARSEC in Peru. "I then take that information and go back to Army South, or higher, and find the resources to bring them together."
Officers 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 working as an ARSEC.
"I work principally with the host-nation army as the Army representative to the U.S. Embassy in security assistance and security cooperation," said Winkleman. "Security assistance usually deals with military equipment and security cooperation is principally focused on training and subject matter expert exchanges."
While Winkleman and other ARSECs within the AOR work directly for SOUTHCOM, they work closely with Army South on a regular basis.
"We work directly in support of the SOUTHCOM theater security cooperation plan and we're principle interlocutors with Army South in executing the Army portion of that plan down at the country team level," said Winkleman.
Winkelman said the job of an ARSEC is not without its challenges.
"We're operating in a different culture so there can be challenges in translating what our needs and desires are in working with them and understanding the needs of our partner nation counterparts, interpreting them and then conveying them to Army South and higher," said Winkleman.
Despite the cultural differences, Winkleman finds his job rewarding, especially when it comes to building relationships.
"We operate in a unique environment at a strategic level so we're able to see some tangible benefits," said Winkleman. "It's very much a relationship-based business and I have often made some great friendships within our partner nation armies."
Marinez plans to recommend the MPEP to his fellow Soldiers in the U.S. Army and will also utilize what he has learned to make improvements in future units to which he's assigned.
"I have learned quite a few things about how their military works and it will help me professionally in future assignments," said Marinez. "I would definitely recommend this to my fellow NCOs. I enjoy the challenges that the job brings."
Marinez said the strongest selling point for taking part in the MPEP is the personal friendhips he's made with his partner nation army counterparts.
"The relationships that I have established mean a lot," said Marinez. "I worked closely with the last two command sergeants major of the Colombian army and I have made lasting relationships with many other NCOs."