Soldiers of U.S. Army Africa Contingency Command Post hosted a familiarization visit, Feb. 26-28, with six South African National Defense Force soldiers in preparation for Shared Accord 13, a joint peace keeping and humanitarian exercise scheduled for July.
This visit, which was part of a contingency command post, or CCP, command post exercise, was the first time U.S. Army Africa, known as USARAF, incorporated a partner nation in an exercise prior to going to Africa, which the participants saw as a beneficial factor.
Col. Vuka Sean Mahlasela, 44th Parachute Regiment commander, South African National Defense Force, or SANDF, said the exercise helped both forces learn to cooperate with each other and improved the relationship between U.S. and South Africa.
"Joint and multinational operations have become the norm of the day. The national defense forces play a very significant role to be able to operate with regional, international and multinational forces to test tactics and share skills and knowledge as well as to learn from each other as multinational forces," Mahlasela said.
Some of the training in which SANDF participated included basic command and control of a multinational exercise; intricacies of joint task force operations; requirements of different logistical infrastructures; and proposed ways on how to run meetings, which the U.S. military calls "Seven-Minute Drills."
Lt. Col. Kevin Saatkamp, CCP executive officer, said key tasks for the CPX were to familiarize SANDF with combined joint task force headquarters capabilities and battle rhythms; rehearse combined command post structure incorporating both U.S and SANDF; and rehearse command and control procedures in a non-secure network environment.
Saatkamp, a Center Moriches, N.Y. native, said some of the training SANDF participated in was based on the scenario written by SANDF exercise directors for Shared Accord 13, or SA 13. With SANDF facilitating the environment for the command post exercise, or CPX, it gave everyone a chance to build better partnerships and capacities.
"Anytime you open a dialogue with someone from a different culture, and it's a positive one based on mutual experiences being in the military, you start to build trust. That trust leads to capacity and building capabilities collectively between two countries," Saatkamp said.
Lt. Col. Gus Claassens, scenario drafter and exercise concept designer for SA 13, SANDF, agreed mutual trust is crucial in these types of exercises, and explained why the CPX is important for U.S. and SANDF soldiers.
"It [the CPX] is important on two levels: first of all, to develop skills of our own Soldiers, compared with a first-world country, for our own purposes. Secondly, to enable international cooperation because the world is shrinking and the Army is busy getting more involved in Africa, so at one point in time we'll end up working shoulder-to-shoulder, so it is very important to create that commonality," Claassens said.
Maj. Ivan Palacios, CCP CPX planner, said the overall objective of the CPX is for USARAF and SANDF soldiers to establish a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities for the CJTF during SA 13. In the end, Palacios said both forces were able to take away valuable knowledge and experience from the CPX.
"[SANDF] will take back to their leadership how to better synchronize and collaborate with the U.S.," said Palacios, a Bronx, N.Y. native. "This is the success that was achieved during these last few days and will set us up for long-term success during Shared Accord in July."
Palacios said USARAF Soldiers learned many valuable lessons as well.
"Our Soldiers are taking away that the military decision making process is very important going into any operation, and they have learned to ask a lot of thought provoking questions prior to execution," Palacios said.
Mahlasela agreed the CPX was mutually beneficial for both parties.
"We learned from each other our different ways of completing the mission. We now know when challenges occur, we will learn how to mitigate those circumstances, and it will create platforms [for us to get to] know each other on an individual basis and [provide opportunities to] share the different skills [each of our forces] possess," Mahlasela said.