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U.S. AFRICOM, SOUTHCOM Promote new approach to regional challenges
Along with U.S. Africa Command going fully operational Oct. 1, the Defense Department will reach another milestone as U.S. Southern Command officials complete a major reorganization that also promotes joint, interagency and even private- and
Along with U.S. Africa Command going fully operational Oct. 1, the Defense Department will reach another milestone as U.S. Southern Command officials complete a major reorganization that also promotes joint, interagency and even private- and public-sector cooperation.

The concept supports universal agreement among President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the service chiefs and the combatant commanders that the military can't tackle 21st-century security challenges alone.

The 2008 National Defense Strategy, released July 31, reflects in its first update since 2005 the importance of interagency as well as interservice and international cooperation to face today's and tomorrow's challenges.

"We are working to create an organization that can best adapt itself to working with the interagency, with our international partners and even with the private-public sector," said Navy Adm. James Stavridis, SOUTHCOM commander. "And we want to do it in a way that is completely supportive of all our partners.

"If I would put one word on it, it's partnership," he said. "That is our [SOUTHCOM] motto: Partnership for the Americas. And our objective is to become the best possible international, interagency partner we can be."

Admiral Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted the similarities between what's happening at SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM during his late-June visit to the AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. Looking out at the audience during a town hall meeting, he called the new command's interagency makeup and the expansive capability it will bring a sign of things to come.

"I think you, in many ways, represent the face of the future with respect to our combatant commands," Admiral Mullen told the group. "You may be leading what we are doing in our government."

As they carry that charge, both SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM are breaking the mold for the way U.S. combatant commands have operated since passage of the National Security Act in 1947.

"The United States needs organizing structures that are custom-made for the age we live in, not where we have come from," said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Sparling, Admiral Stravridis' special assistant for long-range planning. "We in the federal government need to be organized so we can build and put together solutions to 21st-century security challenges, because they are not the same challenges we had in the 20th century."

Admiral Stavridis described the "enormous challenges" facing Central and South America during his mid-March testimony before the House Armed Services Committee. Without large-scale conventional wars looming on the horizon, the bigger regional challenges are poverty, drugs, the risk of regional terrorism and the beginnings of Islamic radical terrorism, he told the committee.

Like a long line of commanders before him, Admiral Stavridis recognized that traditional Cold War-era ways of operating didn't fit in SOUTHCOM's area of focus, which includes all of Latin America and parts of the Caribbean.

"Previous SOUTHCOM commanders have recognized we need to fundamentally change how we do business around here," Colonel Sparling said.

Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, who preceded Admiral Stavridis as SOUTHCOM commander, put together a tiger team in early 2006 to evaluate the command's organization, internal processes and strategy in light of its mission.

"Our philosophy from the beginning was to say, 'This is about rethinking SOUTHCOM and rethinking what a combatant command is,'" Colonel Sparling said.

Admiral Stavridis embraced many of the teams' conclusions and recommendations when he took command in October 2006, fine-tuning them with his staff before taking them to Secretary Gates for approval, Colonel Sparling said.

Secretary Gates gave the plan the green light, putting SOUTHCOM's reorganization on his list of 25 transformation priorities for the Defense Department. SOUTHCOM shares a single bullet on the list alongside AFRICOM, with both commands to be structured as interagency operations by Oct. 1.

"So we are first cousins with AFRICOM, no doubt about it," Colonel Sparling said. "The end state we and AFRICOM are aiming for is really the same end state, philosophically."

Admiral Stavridis said he communicates regularly with Army Gen. William "Kip" Ward, the AFRICOM commander, and Navy Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, General Ward's deputy commander for military operations and a close personal friend, to share ideas about their ongoing efforts.

"Our staffs are talking constantly, and we are indeed sharing lessons back and forth," he said.

He compared AFRICOM's Africa Partnership Station initiative in the Gulf of Guinea, which provides maritime training to African volunteers, to a similar effort Sailors on the USNS Grasp are conducting in the Caribbean.

"We are trying to do some very similar things, and it all goes back to partnership," he said.

Both commands have adopted a command structure with two deputies reporting to the commander: one focused on military operations and one on civil-military activities. At AFRICOM, Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates is the civilian deputy and Admiral Moeller is the military deputy. Their counterparts at SOUTHCOM are Air Force Lt. Gen. Glenn F. Spears, military deputy to the commander, and Ambassador Paul A. Trivelli, civilian deputy to the commander and foreign policy advisor, who came on board earlier this week.

In addition, interagency staff members are spread throughout both commands, where they bring skills and expertise needed to elevate stability operations and prosperity-generating activities to the same level as security activities. The plan, Colonel Sparling said, is to increase interagency billets within the command by about 50 percent, to about 60.

While SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM officials are focused in the same direction, they're approaching their reorganization and standup, respectively, in ways tailored to their unique circumstances.

"We have the same end state, but our paths to get there are very different," Colonel Sparling said. "AFRICOM was a top-down initiative that started with a presidential directive. Ours was a grassroots, bottom-up effort. It started down here, where we did some things internally, studied it, then ultimately, the commander took it forward."

As a result, "AFRICOM has an initiation challenge, and we have a transformation challenge," Colonel Sparling said. "I won't say that one is easier or harder than the other. They are just different."

SOUTHCOM officials approached their reorganization with a proven model of interagency cooperation in their Joint Interagency Task Force South in Key West, Fla. Task force members have overseen air and maritime counterdrug missions in the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and eastern Pacific for almost two decades. The task force has become a model of interagency success.

In addition to Defense Department officials, representatives of the Coast Guard, Drug Enforcement Agency, Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency bring their unique capabilities to the task force.

The task force's success, exemplified by last year's interdiction of more than 200 metric tons of cocaine, didn't happen overnight and came through learning what worked and what didn't, Colonel Sparling said.

"You need to have all these folks working together and cooperating. You have to build a coalition of the willing," he explained. "And that's the way they work today. It is truly remarkable."

The task force has "without a doubt, been our model" for the SOUTHCOM transformation, Colonel Sparling said.

To take that model commandwide, SOUTHCOM officials started by breaking their mission down to three priorities: ensuring regional security, enhancing regional stability and enabling partnering.

"Our focus has broadened to maintaining security, building and increasing stability and setting the conditions for prosperity in the region," Colonel Sparling said.

The next step was to replace the old J-coded staff structure -- another constraint better suited to large troop movements than current operations in the region -- and realign SOUTHCOM into what Colonel Sparling called a "strategy-focused organization."

The headquarters now operates with six directorates, three mission directorates in line with the command's three long-term goals and three functional directorates that support them.

The changeover to this new organizational structure began in February, with most of the internal shuffling of people finished by late May.

"We're in the refinement phase right now, and will call our provisional reorganization complete by the end of the fiscal year," Colonel Sparling said. "That's an important milestone."

While the reorganization provides a framework better suited to SOUTHCOM's operations, Colonel Sparling said, a true transformation ultimately boils down to the people involved.

"Yes, we believe the new structures will better enable us to work together in new ways to address the security challenges we have," he said.

But another benefit, he said, is that the reorganization forces people to rethink their individual roles in the overall organization.

The people at SOUTHCOM have become key to the command's transformation, Colonel Sparling said. He described the close interagency cooperation they are demonstrating, along with increased engagement with nongovernmental organizations, private-sector groups and others who share the same goals, as the "mass of the iceberg below the waterline" that will ensure the command's long-term effectiveness.

Admiral Stavridis said he'll leave it to others to determine if what works in SOUTHCOM will work in other geographic commands.

"My job is to try to build an organization that is appropriate for the world to the south," he said. "I think we have done that, and I think we will continue to work very hard doing that, and I'll let others draw appropriate lessons."

Meanwhile, he said, he's impressed with the broad support the command has received from interagency partners, Congress and others who are watching and participating in the transformation.

"It's going very well," he said. "We are working very hard to make sure we answer everyone's questions and do everything within the boundaries of policy and law, and do it with full transparency."

"The bottom line is that what we are doing here makes sense," Colonel Sparling said. "We want to be a shaper of ideas, helping build partnerships between actors that don't traditionally work together, all focused on a common purpose.

"Ultimately," he said, "that's what will give us the ability to develop security solutions that will be effective in our new contemporary operating environment."