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Interoperability: Regional Advantage in Tackling Shared Challenges

The first U.S. Army South deputy commanding general of Interoperability took on the challenge of converting interoperability among partner nations into a regional cooperation mechanism.
Geraldine Cook/Diálogo | 21 May 2018

The goal of Chilean Army Brigadier General Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler, ARSOUTH deputy commanding general of Interoperability, is to facilitate interoperability initiatives to tackle the region's shared challenges. (Photo: ARSOUTH)

Chile and the United States united for a historic challenge: consolidating interoperability among partner nations’ armies throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to confront common threats. Chilean Army Brigadier General Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler took up this challenge upon becoming the first U.S. Army South (ARSOUTH) deputy commanding general of interoperability (DCG-Interoperability), marking a milestone as the first general officer of a partner nation to be part of ARSOUTH’s headquarters. Brig. Gen. Villarroel hopes to move forward with his complex mission using planning, exercises, and combined regional integration and cooperation efforts.

Upon taking charge of interoperability in October 2017, Brig. Gen. Villarroel coordinated actions aimed at creating new interoperability opportunities for ARSOUTH. Diálogo spoke with the officer about the mission and the future of interoperability among the region's armies, among other matters.

Diálogo: You are the first general officer from a partner nation to assume the position of ARSOUTH DCG-Interoperability. What legacy do you hope to leave as you set this precedent for Chile and the region's partner nations?

Chilean Army Brigadier General Edmundo Villarroel Geissbuhler, ARSOUTH deputy commanding general of Interoperability: I consider the agreement Chile and the United States reached for this designation to be historic. Chile is proud of this position, which shows my country's willingness to continue to participate in international cooperation, done through various peace operations, duties, and missions of similar importance. With respect to the United States and ARSOUTH in particular—after six months in this position—they have shown the same willingness for integration and cooperation that exists in Chile and the region's countries. I have stated on several occasions since October 2017 that my presence in U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) land component, and my daily work on interoperability, cooperation, and strengthening bonds of friendship are on behalf of each and every one of the region's countries. My commitment is to work with and for the region's countries.

Diálogo: Your primary mission is to promote interoperability among military forces of the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean. What are the medium- and long-term goals to achieve that?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: It's not an easy task. My medium-term goal is first to consolidate this new position at ARSOUTH. I need to convert the job description into concrete activities, thereby bringing the best I have to offer from my experience and with the cooperation of partner nations, to the leadership of [U.S. Army] Major General Mark Stammer, ARSOUTH commanding general.

The long-term goal is to bring a plan to fruition that allows complete interoperability between ARSOUTH and partner nations. It's a very complex task. I will most likely be responsible for the design and development phase of this plan, which will be carried out through relevant exercises, combined training, and exchange opportunities. These exercises and opportunities will allow us to improve our level of interoperability.

Diálogo: You took on this position in October 2017. How has your perspective changed since then?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: My perspective hasn’t changed much concerning my expectations in October to now, since I understand the importance of this task. I found out that it's complicated to combine forces, rules, and decisions while also accounting for resources and personnel hours required to transform the initial vision into reality. I am confident that highly positive results will be achieved with the help of ARSOUTH members and by working directly with SOUTHCOM and the rest of its components, since this cannot be solely a land effort.

Diálogo: In your inaugural speech you presented a clear message to the region's partner nations, focused on work, training, and combating adversity together through the strong and trustworthy relationship among nations. How do you expect to put this message into practice?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: I'm already putting my message into practice by holding regular meetings with liaison officers at ARSOUTH and by participating in bilateral meetings and work groups with representatives of other countries. I recently had the opportunity to accompany Maj. Gen. Stammer to an official visit with armies of Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, which allowed me to transmit my message directly to the various army commanders and their representatives. My commitment is to make myself available to them so that they can understand the scope of my position and outlined goals. I hope to be able to do that with as many countries and authorities in the region as possible.

Diálogo: What is the greatest challenge in completing your assigned mission?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: I would not call it a challenge; I would call it a process. This is a new position. Organizations and the procedures for organizational cultures take time to get used to and incorporate change, and my position is one of those changes. I am pleased and motived with the welcome from the ARSOUTH team. It's been really spectacular, especially the support, acceptance, and constant acts of camaraderie the members showed my family and me. ARSOUTH is a mature organization that had the capacity to quickly adapt to this organizational change and to my position. Likewise, I was able to quickly adapt to the ARSOUTH workplace.

Diálogo: What is the importance of international collaboration with respect to interoperability between the Chilean and U.S. armies?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: The agreement already demonstrates, in and of itself, the importance that Chilean and the U.S. armies ascribe to the concept of interoperability. But, rather than specifically pointing to the Chilean and U.S. armies, it seems to me that the cooperation and integration evident in the various degrees of interoperability between the region's armies will always constitute an advantage when it comes to shared challenges. For example, any regional response to a natural disaster in which our armies participate with governmental or non-governmental agencies will be much more effective and efficient to the extent that the operation—which may even be multinational—is designed while taking into account capacities, limitations, and restrictions of participating countries. The Conference of American Armies, as well as other organizations, created, agreed to, and published various tools that allow us to operate under a common doctrine. Now, we need to incorporate those publications into our training procedures to provide an adequate interoperability planning.

Diálogo: Why is it important to discuss interoperability between Chilean military forces and the Western Hemisphere in general?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: It's not important just for my country but for all countries throughout the region. Talking about and having conversations around interoperability is tremendously important because it serves as a starting point. However, it's not enough to declare that some level or other of interoperability is desired. Interoperability must be planned, agreed upon, worked on, trained, and put to the test with clear, relevant, and challenging targets so that we can effectively measure its levels and determine the aspects that need to be strengthened and improved. This task is of a regional nature—not just for SOUTHCOM, ARSOUTH, or the other components. What we currently have in terms of procedures and exercises can be adapted to new requirements, but there are also other partner nation-led exercises at various levels that also provide opportunities to strengthen interoperability through concrete activities. It's not an easy or simple task, but the will is there for it to take place over the medium and long term.

Diálogo: In your opinion, what are the obstacles military forces most frequently face in managing interoperability?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: Interoperability has human, procedural, and technical dimensions. The region has various scenarios that play to the specifics of each army in terms of their capacities, legal restrictions, and agreements. Each army must comply with and respond to its mission in accordance with its current circumstances, and that constitutes a challenge in itself, as well as an opportunity. Each of the region's armies has unique capacities that enable it to fill in for capacities another army may lack when required for a particular operation. When we can understand each other, join together, and ensure that those capacities operate in successful pursuit of a task as important as saving lives in the middle of a natural disaster, that's when we truly encounter the greatest challenge. Interoperability is important because it provides an advantage, and we have mutual opportunities to work on this concept together throughout the region.

Diálogo: What is your message to the region's armies?

Brig. Gen. Villarroel: I hope to be accepted by the region's armies as a facilitator of initiatives that allow us to identify and meet our shared challenges by means of a greater level of interoperability. The existing initiatives, regardless of the country leading them, will always be able to count on the support of ARSOUTH if they benefit the region.

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