U.S. Army Colonel Keith Anthony, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation commandant, spoke to Diálogo about the institute’s curriculum and the challenges and achievements he faces in his third year at its helm*, among other topics. Sitting next to him, Salvadoran Army Colonel Luis Viera, partner nation deputy commandant at WHINSEC, discussed the importance of his role and of WHINSEC from his perspective.
Diálogo: What is the mission of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)? And how is it nested with U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) security cooperation efforts with partner nations in Central and South America and the Caribbean?
Colonel Keith Anthony, WHINSEC commandant: WHINSEC’s mission is to train and educate military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel within the context of the Charter of the Organization of American States. How we do that, the courses that we select, are absolutely aligned with the combatant commands (COCOM) objectives. What are the threats and how we prepare leaders to respond to them. One of the biggest challenges academically is ensuring that our curriculum is relevant, and that what we are doing here at Ft. Benning is realistic to the conditions in the region. So, that’s what we do. We train military, from cadets and corporals all the way to colonels. In fact, we have flag officers attend our Joint and Interagency Operations Course, and a full spectrum of noncommissioned officers, who come here for leader professional development. We have civilians from the Ministry of Defense in our strategic and operational logistics courses. Sometimes [civilians] attend our Interagency Crisis Action Planning Course, which is derived from Civil Affairs education at JFKSWC [U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School]. For law enforcement and other first responders, we’ve adjusted the curriculum to be more whole of government, more interagency, more inclusive for all stakeholders in crisis management. When people read the course descriptions they’ll realize that they are not constrained, that they can send their best people here, regardless of branch of service, agency, or foreign language proficiency. During my time in command we have also increased our English language offerings, to be more inclusive of our regional non-Spanish speaking partners, and in that respect we hold English courses simultaneously with Spanish versions in order to bring Spanish and non-Spanish speaking partners together to build professional relationships towards collaboration.
Diálogo: Why is the motto libertad, paz y fraternidad [liberty, peace, and fraternity] so representative of this mission?
Col. Anthony: It’s a wonderful motto that as a foundation begins with democracy and democratic values. When you come here, you reinforce trust and confidence, you make friends and you break down some of the barriers that if you’re in your home country you’d likely continue to perpetuate. Bottom line, professional friendships are developed at WHINSEC. Every course is about developing leaders; there are no followers here, so everybody –to include the cadets that come here– are future leaders. That’s the whole fraternidad, part. We have it in our song, our graduations, so when you hear it, it rings true.
Diálogo: What do you think is your biggest challenge as commandant of the institute?
Col. Anthony: I have a few, but I would say my biggest challenge is maintaining some agility, meaning I’ve got to be able to change hats based on what the issue is. I have a lot of bosses that count on me. I work for TRADOC [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command]. But, I’m here, on Fort Benning. Everything I need to execute my mission successfully comes from the Fort Benning commanding general. Then we work with two COCOM commanders, with very different missions and different priorities. I’ve been working in the [Latin American/Caribbean] region about 16 years, so I kind of have an idea of how to do security cooperation. Fortunately, I also have people like [Salvadoran Army] Colonel [Luis] Viera [partner nation deputy commandant] and others around me that help me make informed decisions. So the biggest challenge is having good communication and understanding of the joint, interagency, and multinational operating environment.
Diálogo: In the three years that you’ve been here already, what do you think has been your biggest, your greatest achievement?
Col. Anthony: I’m getting ready to have my change of command on the 19th of July, so I’ve been thinking about that question a lot as I prepare my remarks. Most importantly, they’re not my achievements; they really are the institute’s achievements. I’ll focus on three areas.
We have reached new heights in promoting an interagency approach towards crisis management. I think that we’ve learned that it requires a whole of government effort to resolve these complex 21st Century challenges. There is no military solution to any one problem in the world today. Recruiting police and military to send their people to WHINSEC to develop professional relationships is important, but also important is being able to integrate capabilities better and being more interoperable in responding to crises. Also, we established the Center for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD), and I think after 15 years it was about time. However, it shouldn’t be something that’s just taught, we should live it. The CHRD has a responsibility for ensuring that everything we do has a focus on human rights. If it doesn’t, the center will make the tweaks and adjustments to make sure that it does. It’s not just theory, but on-the-ground action and decisions.
We’re always reaching out to new partners. In the region, our doors are open and we are inclusive not exclusive towards all nations in the Americas. That said, U.S. Army personnel at WHINSEC have been instrumental to Army University requirements through engaging with Mozambique using our Portuguese language ability as well as South Africa, and Ukraine.
We do combined graduations now. As part of Army University, we’re working under a semester system. By combining graduations, students are able to go back and talk about WHINSEC, not just about the course and the people that they met in that course. Now they know about all the other courses and the message is getting out about the variety and relevance of courses at WHINSEC. It’s not about a bilateral relationship, it’s about multilateral relationships when it comes to WHINSEC, and that’s one of the things that I’ve tried to promote. I think those would be some of the achievements, not mine, but what we achieved during the three years that I’ve been part of the team. Col. Vieira, anything else we’ve achieved over this time?
Salvadoran Army Colonel Luis Viera, partner nation deputy commandant at WHINSEC: We’ve made the courses more relevant, we’ve focused them on natural disasters and humanitarian assistance. And we’ve partnered with other academic institutions, such as Columbus Technical College.
Diálogo: Colonel Viera, what do you consider your greatest achievement from this experience?
Col. Viera: There have been several. But I consider my greatest achievement to have been contributing to the effort that WHINSEC has made since its creation in 2001, which is to provide all nations in this hemisphere a space in which we can educate ourselves, and where our service members, police, and civilians can train together to improve the capacity to serve our nations and the region on a firm, hemisphere-wide basis of respect and brotherhood. Along that line of thinking, we’ve reclaimed some ideas from past years and we’ve left in place a strategic communications effort in order to establish a reputation in the Americas for the work that we do as an institute. We’re doing this through an informational magazine that we call “Gaceta de la fraternidad,” [Brotherhood Bulletin, in Spanish] that we are hoping becomes an academic journal, as well as an important communications network with high-level military, police, and civilian leaders that I shared experiences with during my time as a student and instructor, and in my current position as deputy commandant. I think we’ve planted the seed for that to happen in the near future.
Diálogo: What lessons learned during this experience will you take with you to your next post?
Col. Anthony: I am going to be a Department of Defense advisor at the Department of State, so there are a lot. First and foremost, [I will take] the importance of approaching problems jointly, as an interagency, and multinationally. Since I have nine other colonels that work for me, I developed a council of colonels. Every Thursday we discuss topics of interest, and they get to know each other and I get to know them. They also let me know what’s going on throughout the institute from their perspective, and hearing their interagency and international perspective on certain areas has been enlightening. I’ve been able to make tweaks and adjustments because of our discussions. Through this two-hour engagement, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot together. These are the future leaders that will take positions of prominence when they return to their respective countries.
Diálogo: And their paths will cross at some point…
Col. Anthony: That’s right. That is a lesson, to leverage the knowledge, experience and wisdom of the people that I have at the institute, and to try to do something of value that will be seen in the future.
Additionally, I would like to cover something because I think it’s important. In the last two years, WHINSEC has won TRADOC Instructor of the Year awards. There is no international category, but Chilean Army Colonel Luis Felipe Cuellar was selected by TRADOC to be Educator of the Year for Fiscal Year 2015. We’re very proud of that fact. And I just found out that we won the Instructor of the Year award in the officer category for FY 2016 with Army Captain Rafael Monterrosa from El Salvador, where the other finalists were from the JFK Special Warfare Center and the Field Artillery Center of Excellence, very capable people. So that’s two in two years, and it says a lot about the level and the quality of instructors that countries send to WHINSEC.
Diálogo: Colonel Viera, what is your takeaway from this experience, and why is it important to be here in the position of deputy commandant?
Col. Viera: First, I am infinitely grateful for the opportunity that I have been given by my country and military to serve in this position at this educational center that I highly admire, where I was a student and an instructor. And of course, I am grateful to WHINSEC for considering me for such a high position at the institute. In that position, and in my working relationship with our commandant, I handle what I call human leadership. I greatly admire how he runs this special organization, always putting a human face to whatever decisions he makes, because it’s easy to enforce the regulations coldly, while still being a good leader; but it’s something else entirely to humanize each decision, especially when working in a multinational environment where, in addition to the human relationships, you are caught in the middle of relations between nations and their respective institutions.
Also, as deputy commandant, I am responsible to our commander for, among other things, handling matters that affect our foreign personnel and their families. For that task, I chair an advisory committee made up of high-ranking military and police officers, and non-commissioned officers from the nations represented at WHINSEC, and together we take up all types of issues in order to appropriately advise leadership’s decision-making. We’re talking about professionals from different countries who have great capabilities and experience, with different ideas for tackling the same problem. Just now, I have six members on the committee with the same rank as mine, which means that mediating our positions to converge into a single assessment that’s useful to WHINSEC is an experience I’ll never forget. In a multinational, multicultural, joint interagency environment, such as the one experienced and taught at WHINSEC, the role of the leader gets complicated, because when addressing any problem, issues come up that would not be at play in other environments, such as national sensitivities, cultural differences, language peculiarities, etc. This leads me to conclude that tolerance, respect for individual and group differences, and leveraging our own capabilities are the keys to success in combating the threats affecting our region; threats that not only require an effort by all of a state’s institutions, but the effort of two or more states.
Diálogo: How do you think the curriculum reflects the values that WHINSEC promotes across the western hemisphere?
Col. Anthony: The curriculum itself is based on the profession of arms, what we teach U.S. Army and NCOs, so ethical, moral, legal…, everything that we teach is related to that. But we also teach human rights. I think we’re the only U.S. Army school that’s mandated to teach human rights as a part of the curriculum. That is very important, and the basis for everything we do. If we didn’t have to teach anything else, our mandate to teach human rights and the profession of arms here in the region would remain. What makes the courses relevant are the proponents (the Army and other schools that develop doctrine). The proponents provide us the information, ensure that the doctrine is current, and then the COCOMs ensure that our Programs of Instruction and curriculum are relevant to the region. We teach small unit tactics, we teach patrolling, but we also bring in U.S. federal law enforcement to help teach in some of the curriculum as well. So DEA, FBI, HSI, CBP spend time at Ft. Benning teaching in some of our courses; it ensures interagency cooperation and relevance because some countries don’t have armed forces.
Diálogo: The second part of that question was how does the curriculum change to developing needs and interests in the region?
Col. Anthony: Through key leader engagements, through interactions with our instructors, through interactions with our students, and again with the COCOMs. Changes occur, but not overnight. We get that information, send it back to TRADOC, have them take a look at it, and then, it comes back to us. It’s a cycle. But we do it very well because we’ve been doing this for 16 years now. It’s still natural disasters, it’s still illicit trafficking. There are still stability issues and security that need to be done. Our courses have to be useful to our regional partners.
Diálogo: How are the students selected to attend to attend WHINSEC?
Col. Anthony: First, the country selects them, each military service or law enforcement institution selects the students in conjunction with the Security Cooperation Office at the U.S. Embassy in each country. They vet the students and then the Department of State approves that vetting and issues visas. After that is complete, they arrive at WHINSEC for instruction.
Diálogo: What regional security concerns do you feel that the student body is most concerned with? And do they vary between classes?
Col. Anthony: It varies based on the number of students from countries represented and the threats that are most important to them. The main ones would be illicit trafficking activities, natural disasters, security, stability, and participating in UN peacekeeping operations. I think those priorities continue to exist in this region, and with this whole transregional and transnational trend, it’s much more than just in this region. What’s really interesting is that we still see the world north-south. NORTHCOM, SOUTHCOM, PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command]. The Brazilians are doing things in Africa, the Peruvians are doing things with PACOM, and participating in exercises with the Chileans and Asian nations. So, that is also the transregional, not just transnational, nature of the type of threats that are occurring.
Diálogo: How do you feel the degrees and courses of study that WHINSEC offers make the students better defense professionals in their own countries?
Col. Anthony: They’re already very good defense and security professionals, before they even get to WHINSEC. When they get here we provide them with planning processes and methodologies such as what we call MDMP [Military Decision Making Process] and JOPP [Joint Operations Planning Process], that they’re able to take back to their country, not to mention practical exercises in leadership. The importance of that is if you can increase their capability to be interoperable with the United States or with their neighbors. WHINSEC has been successful. We ask them to adapt what they learn here and take it back to their countries and apply it to the conditions of their countries. They don’t have Strykers, they don’t have M1 tanks, they don’t have Bradleys, so take what you learn here, what is applicable, and try to apply it back home. That’s the idea, so in a crisis we’re not learning at the same time as we are responding to a crisis. And with all the countries coming here, they’re taking that back. Col. Viera, for example, took our whole Command and General Staff College (CGSC) course, and took it back to El Salvador. Do you know how easy it is to work with El Salvador? It’s proven, because they were our coalition partner in Iraq. They would not understand our logistics process in Iraq if it were not for having been here. They all tell me they want to expand their knowledge of U.S. Army doctrine.
Diálogo: What do you think is the importance of implementing this initiative of having a partner nation deputy commandant working alongside you? How does that increase the richness of WHINSEC’s program and the interactions with partner nations?
Col. Anthony: Well, I promote this, and I know WHINSEC promotes it, because it started that way in 2001. But it’s only going to be as good and as useful as the people here at WHINSEC. For me it’s critical. There’s a lot of work to be done. Like I told you, I wear a lot of hats, and fortunately, Col. Viera helps me with a lot. I didn’t even discuss the international issues that the commandant would have to do if we didn’t have an international deputy commandant. I have full confidence in Col. Viera and the international deputy command concept. I was absolutely certain that when I volunteered for a five-month advisory mission in Ukraine, Col. Viera could step up as the acting commandant. He did a superb job, as did the entire institute, which says a lot about Mission Command at WHINSEC.
I speak Russian, and I wanted to give back, and I wanted to be relevant as well to the U.S. Army here in TRADOC. TRADOC had a tasking, a requirement to go to the Ukraine. I went there for five and a half months as part of the first team to go in and advise the Ukrainians on NATO interoperability and changing their post-soviet doctrine to something modern, so they could operate side by side with NATO or European partners. It’s what we do here, and so it was very easy to go in there and do that. Knowing that and my personal desire and the capabilities of Col. Viera, I relied on him for those five months. And he did a wonderful job. It promoted and highlighted the importance of the position. Col. Viera represented WHINSEC serving as the acting commandant. I think that’s the reason now that all of our instructors write their reports back to their countries and talk about coming to WHINSEC, whether it’s as instructors or the [next] deputy commandant and the international command sergeant major position. Brazil has volunteered to send a colonel to WHINSEC in the summer of 2018, to serve as the next international deputy commandant. It is absolutely the right country at the right time to fill this critical leadership position at WHINSEC.
Col. Viera: As Col. Anthony mentioned, the students who come to WHINSEC are the very top – the best from their nations. In the advisory committee that I chair, I have to manage that situation, because everyone has excellent contributions to make, and they want them to be taken into account for the betterment of WHINSEC. One of my roles is to be a mediator between those contributions and the institute’s command.
Diálogo: What do you think is the importance of also including a course to develop the region’s noncommissioned officer corps?
Col. Viera: Indeed, I try to ensure that all of the countries in the hemisphere aspire to have a non-commissioned officer corps like the United States has. But we understand that that process has taken over 70 years, and has been very costly because you have to train them. I’ve seen non-commissioned officers here who are even better trained than officers. So the good news, in the case of El Salvador, is that despite our limited resources, we are slowly making progress. We have non-commissioned officers with university educations, in some cases, in legal areas. At the end of the day, it’s not just about having a trained non-commissioned officer corps – it’s about them exhibiting that training. So, WHINSEC has been a learning experience for us in that sense.
During the post-war professionalization of our Armed Forces, coming to WHINSEC and other schools in the United States has helped us understand the true scope of the non-commissioned officer’s role, serving as the perfect partner in training and leading units. Clearly, officers and non-commissioned officers are professionals who complement each other, and together we make up a team that is needed for mission success in all military units. Thanks to WHINSEC, all the nations in this region learn that when their cadets come here and have sergeants as instructors, it’s a lesson that they will never forget, because from the start, they learn to value the experience and professionalism of the non-commissioned officer corps.
Col. Anthony: As you say, they already know the concept and its importance, which is the important thing.
Col. Viera: We don’t have the resources that the United States has, but we have the doctrine. That concept is indeed useful with the resources that we have. WHINSEC is a treasure that offers us much more than bilateral relations. There’s no other place where a Salvadoran can join a Brazilian or a Chilean—whether they be police, military or civilians—for everyone to learn in an incredibly multilateral setting. It’s only here that that happens.
*Diálogo spoke to Col. Anthony and Col. Viera some months prior to Col. Anthony’s change of command at WHINSEC, on July 19th.