Bilateral exercises are an important part of building relationships between nations and enhancing the abilities of partner nation armies to work together through various missions and problem sets. The week-long Exercise Southern Vanguard 23 (ExSV23), which kicked off at Tolemaida Military Base in Colombia on November 9, is U.S. Army South’s premier training exercise designed to accomplish these goals.
“The interoperability, opportunities, and experiences for me and my guys can’t be understated,” said U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Nate Myers, a squad leader assigned to 2nd Battalion, 130th Infantry Regiment, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Illinois Army National Guard said when asked about the exercise. “An example of what we have learned is that here in the jungle terrain we have learned a lot from the Colombians on how to conduct operations from a different tactical formation than we normally do.”
Reciprocally, the Colombian soldiers are taking full advantage of this learning opportunity ensuring they learn everything they can from their U.S. Army counterparts.
“The importance for us in this exercise is to have the opportunity to exchange knowledge with our partners in the U.S. Army,” said Colombian Army First Lieutenant Simon Mosquera who is working as an observer, controller, and trainer throughout ExSV23. “It also allows us to improve in our capabilities in order to save lives and defend our country.”
The ability to share best practices for military operations between armies is invaluable for everyone involved but it is not the only thing taking place of value. The friendships and memories being made at the lowest levels are something that will be remembered far into the future.
Colombian Army Staff Sergeant Octavio Muñoz, a platoon sergeant assigned to the BRNCA 1 Special Anti-Drug Brigade and Staff Sgt. Myers direct counterpart, talked about the friendships being made at the barracks when the soldiers are resting from a long day of training. He said, “we have the opportunity to share with each other about our families including our parents, wives and kids.”
Muñoz also talked about the U.S. soldiers learning the traditional Colombian game “Rana” which involves tossing metal rings or coins into the mouths of frog statues from a short distance away. “At first they were not very good but each day they are playing with us in the barracks area and continue to get better,” he said.
“So far it’s been an excellent experience, and everyone has been extremely welcoming and friendly,” explained Staff Sgt. Myers. “I think I can speak for the entire platoon when I say that since getting on the ground we have had the most friendly and welcoming environment and it has greatly contributed to our experience as well as our ability to train here together.”
When the soldiers assigned to the 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team eventually depart back to their home state of Illinois they will take with them knowledge, experiences, and friendships that will last a lifetime with many of the soldiers exchanging email addresses with plans to stay in touch through social media in the future.