U.S. Service Members Train in Colombia

U.S. Service Members Train in Colombia

By Myriam Ortega/Diálogo
August 10, 2018

The Colombian Armed Forces’ comprehensive action missions strengthen Colombia’s governance.

For more than 11 weeks, Colombian and U.S. service members strengthened their knowledge on techniques and resources to transmit messages to hostile, neutral, or friendly audiences to support the Colombian Army’s institutional objectives. The Colombian Army’s School of International Missions and Comprehensive Action (ESMAI, in Spanish), taught the Basic Military Information Support Operations (MISO) Course that ended June 1, 2018, in Bogota.

Among different topics, the course covered the Colombian Armed Forces’ lessons learned on comprehensive action tasks that strengthen the Colombian government governance while providing humanitarian assistance to communities in need. “It’s not our role, but the military forces [are] part of the state. So we seek new ways for the state to reach those areas,” Colombian Army Colonel César Alberto Karán Benítez, commandant of ESMAI, told Diálogo.

“We need to find other roles that favor the country’s development,” Col. Karán added. “[We have] a myriad capabilities to offer the Colombian people. Our new Army doctrine focuses on how to help more, how to face the new challenges that come after conflict.”

Pioneer in the region

ESMAI has become a pioneering school for regional training, evidenced by the high number of international students. In recent years, more than 300 foreign officers and noncommissioned officers trained in different disciplines.

In June, two U.S. officers finished the Basic MISO Course, while one Ecuadorean and two Mexican students took part in the next edition of the course, in July. Other ESMAI courses attract international participation as well, such as the Combat Camera Course that ended in August with 14 foreign students enrolled.

“[In 2018] we had the pleasure of having two students from the U.S. Army, an officer and a noncommissioned officer. We worked closely for two and a half months,” said Col. Karán. “We did things that we thought were fine, but when we saw how they did them, we realized we could improve the process significantly. The same happened to them.”

“Our presence here serves two purposes. First, to attend the course and learn about comprehensive action, because it’s something new for us,” U.S. Army Captain Jake Bruder, a course participant, told Diálogo. “We want to learn how to support and help Colombia in the peace process and in the Army’s development.”

MISO was previously known as Psychological Operations. “This tool can be very powerful,” U.S. Army Sergeant Russell Robson, another student in the course, told Diálogo. “We use it to win wars without firing weapons; it helps induce behavior in our targets that favors our objectives.”

Knowledge exchange

The experience allowed students to better understand the context in which operations are conducted, and get to know their counterparts. “It’s been very good for us; especially for me, because I made many friends here. I was able to see their situation in their unit, outside the school, such as what they have to do when they get here,” Sgt. Robson said. “That helps us have a vantage point on how to improve things. It also serves as an example to be better soldiers, better leaders.”

Unlike the U.S. Army, the Colombian Army implements MISO in exercises carried out in Colombia. “[We conduct] MISO outside [the U.S. territory], in Colombia and other countries,” Capt. Bruder said.

U.S. participants contributed to the course with suggestions, such as ensuring that MISO is connected to the Victoria Plus Plan, the Colombian Army’s strategic plan. They also recommended clarifying the reasoning behind each intervention, measuring its impact, and delving into target audiences.

“One of the changes that should occur before reaching an international level is a deeper understanding of target audiences,” Sgt. Robson said. “We are not talking about classes or big groups of people; it might be only one person. And that’s the analysis we should do—an analysis of psychographic and demographic conditions, as well as vulnerabilities.”

“You must look ahead. How will I do it, how to connect the whole strategic plan, and how will I carry it out when I’m not from that country, when I don’t speak their language?” Sgt. Robson said.

For Capt. Bruder, the experience and knowledge acquired from the course must be passed along. “I’m going to use that knowledge to develop my team’s operations with comprehensive action brigades and battalions,” he concluded.