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Fostering cooperation in Latin America.

GUATEMALA experienced civil war for decades until 1996, and because of atrocities its military once committed against its own people it suffered U.S. sanctions that affected the education, training and financing of its military, said COL Linda Gould, commander of U.S. Military Group, Guatemala.

The MILGROUP includes three U.S. service members. They help plan exercises, distribute money from the United States that's earmarked for training and educating Guatemalan military personnel, and secure slots for Guatemalan soldiers to train at U.S. military schools, among other duties [see related story].

Bordering Mexico and El Salvador, Guatemala sits in a real-world hotbed of smuggling operations that involve drugs, weapons and even people. Much of the contraband crosses Guatemala en route to Mexico, where it continues its journey into the United States, according to U.S. State Department reports.

Peacekeeping Operation North 2006, a computer-generated war game held recently at a convention center in Guatemala City, combined many of the region's real-world problems to create a realistic training scenario involving several hundred computer simulations from some 800 available in a scenario database, said Roger Astin, U.S. Army, South, scenario manager.

Based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, USARSO plans and executes PKO North and other exercises in Latin America and the Caribbean as the Army component of the Florida-based U.S. Southern Command.

PKO North has been conducted in various Latin American countries annually since 1995 to promote cooperation among the participating nations' military forces--or police forces in those countries with no military forces--and to improve readiness and interoperability, said LTC James Rose, chief of USARSO's Tactical Exercise Division.

USARSO runs three foreign military interaction exercises annually, Rose said. PKO North (Central America and the Caribbean) and PKO South (South America) are based on United Nations peacekeeping operations. Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias is based on a disaster-response/humanitarian-assistance scenario. In 2006 the exercises were held in Guatemala, Peru and Honduras, respectively. [See related USARSO missions story.]

Directed by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and sponsored by USSOUTHCOM, the joint- and combined-services, multinational PKO North 2006 exercise involved some 450 participants from 22 countries, as well as representatives from such nongovernmental groups as the American Red Cross and the Organization of American States, and members of the United Nations, including human rights advocates and experts in DDR--disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating former rebel forces into society.

Among U.S. players were special-operations units, National Guard Soldiers from the Maryland-based 220th Military Police Brigade and Alabama's 167th Theater Support Command, and Army Reserve Soldiers from Texas, Puerto Rico and Arkansas.

U.N. police forces were played by actual national police personnel from countries that don't have standing armies, said USARSO scenario officer Astin. Among those countries are Haiti, Grenada, Panama, Costa Rica and the Bahamas.

"We work closely with the U.N. to incorporate recent experiences, lessons and priorities from actual missions around the world," said Astin. "That keeps the exercise fresh and relevant. This year, in addition to the usual peacekeeping themes, participants are confronting leadership issues regarding 'gender mainstreaming,' womens' rights and even peacekeeper misconduct. Our scenarios challenge all of the exercise participants to truly 'think outside the box,' realizing that not every situation has an immediate resolution based oil an existing regulation or manual."

The exercise co-directors were Guatemalan army Brig. Gen. Carlos Alberto Villagran de Leon and BG Jose Mayorga, USARSO's deputy commander for support. As JTF commander, Villagran de Leon was in charge of four sectors, including a remote "cell" located in Coban, about a four-hour drive from Guatemala City. Coban is the site of the Guatemalan Regional Training Center, where four nations are currently each contributing a company of soldiers to form a battalion that can respond to crises around the world.

A joint exercise control group interjected training events via e-mail messages, role-players, telephone calls, and simulated radio and TV newscasts into the "game," prompting "players" to react.

The joint U.S. services' responses included a fictional maritime interdiction in response to smuggling operations, said Navy Lt. Cdr. Doug Ross.

Players "got more thrown at them here in one day than they would in four days of a real-life operation," said Mayorga.

In the exercise scenario, leaders arrived in a fictional country called Boria, a nation whose military forces had disbanded. There was no security force, and the weak republic suffered from endemic corruption. Crime, including drug trafficking and the smuggling of weapons, ammunition, gold and diamonds flourished.

The leaders of U.S. military units and those of coalition nations "arrived" ahead of their "troops" and in the aftermath of a fictional typhoon. Civil war raged in another fictional country, neighboring Rogan, and was fueled largely by the Rogan Liberation Army, which smuggled contraband into the country from Boria.

Joint Task Force-Boria, when it stood up, would have to deal with myriad events related to a recently secured peace treaty, ethnic conflict, gender discrimination, human-rights abuses, an arms embargo, black-market sales, gang violence, multinational coordination and cooperation, and disaster response.

Leaders got the heart-jolting situation report at a realistic press briefing, complete with newscasts that included borrowed statements from U.S. officials, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice--speaking in reference to some actual event in the past--video clips of smuggling operations and other insurgent activity in the region, and the arrival of U.N. peacekeepers, also taken from a real-world mission.

Also created by USARSO's audiovisual office, with the help of students majoring in communications at Guatamalan universities, was a press briefing with exercise officials. It was inserted into the presentation for realism and helped to train commanders to speak to the media.

Players prepared for the exercise by familiarizing themselves with numerous exercise documents available--in both English and Spanish--via a Web site. They included U.N. peacekeeping operations publications, field manuals, resolutions and handbooks.

COL Chris Gentry, deputy commander of the 220th MP Bde., said the 15 Soldiers from his brigade headquarters who served as the joint land forces component command--controlling all the land forces in the fictional Boria (about 7,000 notional troops)--were actually doing what they do as a headquarters element.

At the same time USARSO supported the exercise, it trained its own Soldiers. For example, SFC John Walker from the USARSO G-3 Plans office was the exercise request-for-information officer. He answered many questions posed by participants and relating to the exercise scenario.

Walker was still reminiscing about an exercise highlight the night before the exercise began--a cultural-day event sponsored by the Guatemalan army, which included a tour to Antigua, the first capital of Guatemala, dinner and a presentation of regional dances by costumed dancers at Antigua's cultural center.

"How many people get to mingle with the local people the way we did last night and share a part of their culture?" Walker asked.

"Events like this one build friendship, trust, respect, cooperation, and familiarity with the land and its people," he said.

USARSO is responsible for helping maintain peace in all of Central and South America, and for supporting JTF-Guantanamo Bay operations in Cuba.

Eleven Latin-American nations are currently involved in peacekeeping operations around the world, said Rose. Brazil, for example, is in charge of operations in Haiti.

The more other nations participate in operations such as these, the more it helps reduce the burden on the United States, he said.

RELATED ARTICLE: USARSO's myriad missions.

Story by Heike Hasenauer

Long known for its humanitarian and drug-interdiction work throughout Latin America, U.S. Army, South, continues to perform vital missions in Latin America from its home at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

The humanitarian-aid projects the U.S. military continues to conduct in Latin America are as critical today as ever, said LTC Andres Ortegon, a command spokesman.

Exercise Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias in Honduras helps pave the way for multinational relief following natural disasters, he said, by bringing government and nongovernmental organizations together--before a disaster strikes--to draw up plans.

Peacekeeping exercises, such as those in Guatemala and Peru in June and July, respectively, are also a USARSO priority.

That's because "there's a growing threat in Latin America," Ortegon said. "Everybody says 'drugs,' but it's drugs and gangs. We believe there are more than 100,000 gang members in Central America, and gangs are said to be cashing in on bounties offered to them by people who smuggle human beings."

Add to that the drug trade, fragile governments and poor economies in which many people barely have life's necessities, and the doors are open for coercion and corruption.

USARSO works daily to help the people and governments of the Caribbean and Latin America live their lives peacefully by aiding in the improvement of basic infrastructure--by building schools, clinics, wells and community centers, and by conducting medical-readiness exercises that bring doctors, nurses and medicines to villages where people may never have seen a medical professional before, said LTC Gary Robinson, chief of USARSO's Humanitarian & Civic Assistance Division.

Some 5,000 U.S. Soldiers rotate through Central America each year, many of them Reserve and National Guard members performing their annual active-duty training. At any given time, about 400 Soldiers are in the region performing a variety of missions.

USARSO's Soldiers also help train the soldiers of Latin American nations, in efforts to improve the individual country's stability. And there are platoon exchanges between the U.S. and Central American militaries. In April, for example, 37 Soldiers deployed to El Salvador from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., which in turn hosted a platoon of Salvadoran troops.

In August 2006 USARSO hosted a conference for senior Latin American noncommissioned officers--one of the ways in which USARSO helps bring NCOs from Central America up to the U.S. NCO standard, as per requests from foreign military officials who have long recognized that NCOs in the U.S. military are given much more responsibility, said USARSO G-3 SGM Jose a. Lopez.

The first Latin-American and Caribbean defense forces senior-enlisted conference was held in Texas in 2005, Lopez said.

The four-step soldier-exchange process includes a visit by U.S. NCOs to a particular Latin American nation; a reciprocal visit by that nation's NCOs to a U.S. NCO academy; a return trip to Latin America by U.S. NCOs to determine whether the Latin American NCO school is ready to produce top-notch NCOs; and, finally, completion of the NCO training curriculum.

At the same time USARSO conducts myriad exercises far from its home station, the command--much like every other command in the Army--is working to transform itself. "We will become a bigger headquarters and will be joint-task-force capable," Ortegon said.

When USARSO becomes Sixth Army, it will be able to better provide administrative and logistical support to U.S. forces in Latin America, as well as be able to conduct operations as a joint task force or joint force land component headquarters, he said.

Guatemala's capital, Guatemala City, was the site of Peacekeeping Operation North 2006, a computer-based war game.


RELATED ARTICLE: Boosting security in Guatemala.

Story and Photo by Heike Hasenauer

THE United States has 25 security-cooperation offices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Also called security-assistance offices, the one in Panama is called the Office of Defense Cooperation. In Guatemala it's the U.S. Military Group, Guatemala.

Each serves as a security link to the U.S. military, said COL Linda Gould, commander of the U.S. MILGROUP, Guatemala.

"Much of our focus here is on counter-terrorism and counter-drug operations. What we can do to help the Guatemalans fight terrorism and drugs can only help the United States in the long run," she said.

"To support U.S. Southern Command, we're their eyes, ears and hands in Guatemala, to conduct security assistance and implement the theater-security cooperation plan," said LTC Matthew Greco, an Army section chief at the MILGROUP.

"It means we help set up training that the U.S. military wants to conduct here," Greco said. That includes medical-readiness exercises, which are conducted four or five times annually to train U.S. Reserve Soldiers, "honing their skills in a harsh environment, providing valuable services to the local people, and fostering popular support for the U.S. Department of Defense and its policies."

The MILGROUP also coordinates the shipment of any equipment the U.S. military wants to send to Guatemala, and it's USSOUTHCOM's lead military disaster-response agency whenever there's a natural disaster in the region, such as Hurricane Stan in 2005.

Additionally, the MILGROUP is responsible for setting up training in the United States for members of the Guatemalan military.

The U.S. defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, LTC Edward Bonfoey III, is typically the face of the U.S. military at all state functions, he said. The man he works for, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, gets no money for training Guatemala's military or procuring military equipment for its armed forces. That's the MILGROUP's role, Bonfoey said.

Greco interacts each day with senior officials of the Guatemalan army and with people in Guatemala's ministries of the interior, justice and defense.

"I often visit their army installations across the country to assess how the U.S. Army can provide assistance here," Greco said.

"We've become very actively engaged in assisting the Guatemalan government to establish sovereignty along the border with Mexico and other borders where there's a weak or nonexistent government presence, to help them combat illegal migration and trafficking of arms and narcotics," Greco said.

Some 500 tons of cocaine passed over Central America in fiscal year 2005, Greco said, citing a report of the Joint Interagency Task Force South--the agency in Key West, Fla., responsible for tracking and interdicting cocaine flowing out of Colombia.

The Guatemalan army uses American-built M-113 armored personnel carriers to patrol the borders, Gould said. "We got $500,000 through the U.S. Military Assistance Program to refurbish the vehicles and make them mission capable."

The United States is also furnishing $3.2 million from 2005 to 2010 so the Guatemalan army can purchase communications equipment, which will allow border-patrol personnel to immediately report illicit activities, Gould said. Some of the money will pay for spare parts for helicopters and individual soldier equipment.

Portions of the money are released to Guatemala, based on "what they tell us they need," Gould said.

"Strengthening partnerships in democracy is our goal," Bonfoey said. Guatemala suffered a 36-year civil armed conflict that formally ended in 1996.

Over the past few years Guatemala's armed forces have been reduced from some 46,000 to 15,500, said Bonfoey. The country's navy and air force are composed of roughly 1,500 people each, Gould added.

Today, besides the military's participation in U.N. missions--including the recent third rotation of soldiers to the U.N. mission in Congo--the Guatemalan army is much utilized in its own country, protecting its borders.

"The biggest change in the past three years here is the openness of the host nation's armed forces," said Ryan Rowlands, press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala. "Today, military officials welcome reporters and are happy to show off their facilities and operations."
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Author:Hasenauer, Heike
Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:2GUAT
Date:Sep 1, 2006
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