Officer Liaison Program Fosters Partnership, Understanding
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, May 31, 2012 A partnership program at U.S. Southern Command here is helping to build enduring bonds with the rising stars of partner-nation militaries as it promotes better understanding and closer cooperation.
Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, commander of U.S. Southern Command, left, congratulates Cmdr. Paulo Petro of the Brazilian navy after pinning the Joint Service Commendation Medal on his uniform at the completion of his assignment at Southcom headquarters in Miami through the Partner Nation Liaison Officer program. U.S. Southern Command photo by Arthur McQueen
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Southcom’s Partner Nation Liaison Officer Program brings foreign military officers directly into its headquarters for assignments throughout the command staff, explained Army Lt. Col. Ed Lluberes, who oversees the program.
The program, which grew at one point to nine participants since its inception in 1998, introduces partner nations’ future military leaders to Southcom’s staff-level operations, while also tapping into their insights and experience, Lluberes said.
“The countries are sending their top of the crop,” he said. “These [foreign liaison officers] are very well educated and experts in what they do. A lot have gone on to become general officers or gone into high leadership roles after leaving here and returning to their counties.”
During their assignments here, typically two to three years, the officers aren’t pigeon-holed into liaison slots, Lluberes said. Rather, he explained, the program tries to integrate them throughout the staff to work alongside political-military affairs officers. This staff-level perch exposes them to the inner workings of the command in its dealings not only with their home nations, but also throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
“One of the most important things they get out of this experience is an understanding of how Southcom works -- from the staff process to our mission,” Lluberes said. “It gives them a greater appreciation for what U.S. Southern Command and the U.S. military do in the Western Hemisphere, our area of responsibility.”
It also helps the officers overcome false assumptions. “There are a lot of misconceptions about how the U.S. military does its mission,” Lluberes said. “Through this program, [participants] come away saying, ‘Now I understand.’ And they take that understanding back to their countries.”
After returning home, these officers can use their experiences at Southcom to influence their own militaries or become spokesmen for U.S. approaches, he said.
“This program is very important to the United States,” Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, Southcom’s commander, said during a recent awards ceremony for liaison officers finishing their assignments here. “The benefit we gain will pay us dividends in the future. … We have learned a great deal from each other as we worked with the armed forces of their countries.”
This gives the Southcom headquarters staff valuable insights they can apply in their engagements throughout the theater, Lluberes said. They serve as panelists at command-sponsored conferences and seminars, advise senior leaders here on issues involving their home countries and share experiences that shed new light on their militaries.
“They bring tremendous operational experience to the table,” Lluberes said. “If we are doing exercises or conferences or [working on] strategies, they provide insights that we may not have, because we don’t have as extensive experience as they do in those particular areas.”
One of the current liaison officers, Capt. Claudio Escalona of the Chilean navy, has two peacekeeping operations under his belt: as a military observer for the U.N. mission in the Middle East, and as a battalion commander for the U.N. stabilization mission in Haiti. He also commanded the Chilean unit that provided disaster response in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake there.
Col. Jose Alejandro Forero of the Colombian army, a 1985 graduate of the Colombian military academy and a war college professor, has extensive experience fighting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a terrorist group known by its Spanish acronym, FARC.
A Uruguayan officer who recently completed his assignment here served as advisor to three of his country’s defense ministers and shared key strategic insights from those experiences with the Southcom staff.
Canada, the newest participant in the Partner Nation Liaison Officer Program, recognizes its value in developing closer security relationships within the Western Hemisphere, Lt. Bruno Vielle of the Canadian army said.
Vielle brings experience serving in Cyprus and in Haiti to the Southcom staff, and said he’s learning not only through the processes here, but also through his regular interactions with his counterparts from throughout the region.
“They all say that the experience with other liaison officers in invaluable to them,” Lluberes said. “They’re getting to share things that they would never otherwise have the opportunity to share.”
Ultimately, everyone ends up a winner, Lluberes said. “We gain as much from them as they gain from us,” he said. “There are countless examples of how they contribute to what we do here.”
As he departed his Southcom assignment in February, Cmdr. Paulo Petro of the Brazilian navy put the experience into perspective. “As an aviator, I have flown across open seas, over the Amazon jungle and over the snowy Andes, but if I have to mention one highlight in my career, it would have to be my time in Miami as part of the Southcom family,” he said.
Capt. Luis Felipe Bravo of the Chilean navy agreed. “All of you [in the United States] bring hope to many nations. You really, truly foster regional stability with your efforts in the region,” he said. “You make this world a better place in which to live, and I feel honored to walk alongside you.”
(Claudia Sanchez-Bustamante of U.S. Southern Command contributed to this article.)