Liaisons Among The Americas

Old Linkage, New Approach

Por Dialogo
febrero 11, 2009

In 1997, a forward-thinking combatant commander conceptualized a plan to invite ‎partner-nation senior military officers — primarily colonels — to serve on his staff as ‎advisors, providing cultural expertise and coordination on military matters between their ‎countries and U.S. Southern Command.‎ One year later, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, then commander of the Southern Command, made ‎this vision a reality. Argentina and Uruguay were the first countries to send a senior ‎officer to work in the command, thus creating the Partner Nation Liaison Officer ‎program, or PNLO. The following year, Colombia and Ecuador also sent officers. Chile ‎began participating in the program in 2000, and Canada sent a liaison officer in 2007. ‎More than a decade later, the program still thrives.‎ ‎“The truth is that we have a small community within Southern Command and we share ‎our experiences,” said Chilean navy Capt. David Hardy, who along with his counterparts ‎from Uruguay, Peru, Colombia and Canada, form today’s PNLO program.‎ Their experience is invaluable as the command strengthens relationships with partner ‎nations. “The biggest benefit they bring is the experience of working in our region,” said ‎U.S. Air Force Col. Jose Sanchez, deputy director of country insight for the command. ‎ ‎“They were raised there, they know their militaries, they know how they think … and ‎they can give us feedback immediately.”‎ Peruvian army Col. César Alva is working on collaborative solutions to end terrorist ‎activities. “My main job is trying to collaborate in resolving narcoterrorism by means of ‎cooperation between Southern Command and the Peruvian armed forces,” he said. “I’m interested in maintaining a good cooperation program for 2009, and if possible, a five-‎year midterm plan where our objectives are clear … which are to end terrorism and ‎narcotrafficking.”‎ The liaison officer is a coveted position appointed by each country’s minister of defense. ‎The tour of duty ranges from one to two years, depending on the country’s agreement ‎with the command. Each officer usually receives a housing and transportation allowance ‎from their military. The officers usually have a good grasp of the English language and, ‎in many cases, speak more than two languages.‎ While the Southern Command benefits from the knowledge and experience of the liaison ‎officers, the program also gives officers and their families an opportunity to experience ‎U.S. culture.‎ ‎“My experience until now has been excellent. It’s the first time my family and I have ‎been in the United States,” Uruguayan army Col. Luis Lavista said. “There are some very ‎interesting and enjoyable things for people coming from South America to the United States, above all order, transportation, respect for the laws, and there’s a lot of security.”‎ The Miami-based command has been working to integrate liaison officers into more of its ‎activities, including conferences and regional exercises such as PANAMAX. Liaison ‎officers have also been visiting component commands, including U.S. Army South in San ‎Antonio; U.S. Navy South in Jacksonville, Fla.; and U.S. Marine Corp Forces South in ‎Miami, to learn more about U.S. military operations.‎ ‎“By taking them to the component commands, they see their roles and missions. And we ‎try to teach them how we interact with each other and how our components interact with ‎the headquarters,” Col. Sanchez said. “Once they get that view, they are able to better ‎understand the projects that would help us — and them. We have to remember that ‎interoperability is a big thing between our armed forces and our partner nations.”‎ With the command expected to move into a new facility in late 2010, current commander ‎Adm. Jim Stavridis has invited more countries to participate in the mutually beneficial ‎program.‎ The officers who have served in the program support increased participation. “We don’t ‎have to be [only] four [countries]. We should have liaison officers here from all ‎countries,” Col. Lavista said. If all countries were represented, he said, they would have ‎the ability to work better collectively.‎