“The challenges we face collectively today are both traditional dilemmas and unconventional threats that transcend national borders. We must be prepared with a collective solution. We must train together and develop a unified response. We must train together to strengthen our trust. And we must train together to increase our understanding – of each other and our shared interests.” MG Gregory Bilton
In today’s multinational environment we are confronted with an ever changing international landscape. This environment is complex and takes years of painstaking work to understand, prepare for and execute the missions that are required. When working with our non-US counterparts we are tasked with building a lasting relationship that intertwines our unique skillsets into one cohesive fighting force. If we do not foster these relationships we can find ourselves alone on the battlefield. I will attempt to give guidance on some of the proven methods I have used to build upon both existing partnerships and those that are newly created. One note before I get started is that these techniques will need to be flexible as each nation has different values and cultural norms that must be accounted for as well as the mission you are conducting will vary.
The first thing to note is that patience is the single greatest attribute that can be displayed. These partnerships will not develop overnight. Even well-established partnerships will go through growing pains whenever there is a change in personnel. The amount of time it takes will vary and in some cases, due to operational requirement, not be enough to be anything more than a bandage until ample time is available. A point worth making is that none of the relationships I have built over the years have taken more than a week to make operational and I still have friends to this day in each of these partnerships.
One of the easiest parts of any relationship, new or old, is finding a common ground to which both parties can relate. Since most of the readers here are service members this is a solid common ground to start with. Due to the stature that military service holds in almost all cultures it is easy to see how this would work. Start with basic infantry tactics and see where it leads. In Rwanda I took the first few days to just watch how they operated and tried to see how the U.S. system could be incorporated. It turns out that despite our differences we had quite a bit in common.
Another relatively easy way to incorporate yourself is to learn a few key phrases in your partner’s language. I spend quite a bit of time learning basic phrases both before and during my time with each group. The amount of respect you earn from this is immeasurable because it shows mutual respect for one another. They are going to attempt English for us so we must attempt to repay this kindness.
The last thing I will discuss and arguably one of the hardest hurdles to overcome will be the desire to correct them. This tends to be especially hard for NCO’s due to the U.S. system that emboldens our NCO’s to mentor and train. It is important to remember that these Soldiers that we are working with were trained before your arrival and the majority of the things they do are because of that training. Never go into a partnership assuming that our way is the only way to fight. If you do this I guarantee you will have a much harder time working with them and in some cultures the damage may be nearly unrepairable.
When building or establishing a partner nation relationship understand that there will be hiccups and there will be tension. Do not let this interfere with the mission at hand and work together to overcome and adapt to each other’s personal differences. I have successfully built partnerships with nearly a dozen nations from five continents and I have used these techniques in each one. If you are unwilling to at least attempt to build partners in today’s operational environment then you will inevitably have a tougher time as you move upwards in your career. We are just too global of an organization to accept anything other than international cooperation. One more thing, these are not the only methods that can be used but they are a foundation to success and can be scaled for unit operations.
About the Author
Collin is a 13 year veteran of the US Army, where he has served in various units and holds MOS’s in Armor and Logistics. He has deployed to the Horn of Africa as a Mil-2-Mil trainer in Djibouti and Rwanda as well as a deployment to Afghanistan working directly with the Mongolian Expeditionary Task Force. Collin has also trained with nearly a dozen other nationalities both stateside and deployed. Any opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the US Army or the US Government.