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Southcom Strives to Maximize Theater Engagement Efforts

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

MIAMI, June 7, 2012 – U.S. Southern Command continues to move full steam ahead on its array of theater engagement programs, but recognizing budget realities, is exploring new, more efficient ways to conduct them and to maximize their impact, a senior military leader here reported.

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One of two interceptor boats delivered to Grenada in May under the Secure Seas U.S. maritime security assistance initiative, part of U.S. Southern Command’s theater engagement efforts helping regional partners deter maritime threats. DOD photo by Michael Wimbish

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“We all understand what the future looks like. We know the trend is downward for future funding,” Army Maj. Gen. Gerald W. Ketchum, director of the command’s theater engagement directorate, told American Forces Press Service.

“So we are going to have to be smart,” he said. “We probably aren’t going to be able to do all the things we have done in the past, so we are going through this very deliberate process right now of ensuring that where we are spending our money is, in fact, where we need to be doing that.”

That, Ketchum explained, involves scrutinizing every activity within the command’s “robust toolkit” of engagement programs to eliminate those with marginal return in favor of those with proven results. “So you have to ensure that the activity you select truly is going to accomplish what you want and is going to provide the [desired] end results,” he said.

Southcom’s theater engagement programs run the gamut, from bilateral and multilateral exercises, training programs and educational exchanges to a security assistance program that helps partners meet their defense and modernization needs. 

All are designed to help partner nations build their own military capacity and to improve their ability to operate with each other and the United States, Ketchum said. Because partner-nation capability varies widely across the region, Southcom tailors its engagements to address specific requirements, identified through close coordination with the partners themselves as well as the command’s service components, U.S. embassy teams and U.S. service members operating in the theater.

Ultimately, these engagements aim to create strong partnerships able to stand up to regional challenges, Ketchum said. “We truly want to be the partner of choice,” he said. “And we want those partnerships to be enduring.”

The success of the effort has a direct impact on the United States, Ketchum said. “We are a community of nations, and we are completely interlocked because of globalization,” he said. “And the threats we face do not end at borders. They are international in nature, and therefore, it takes an international response to address those challenges.”

As the Southcom staff studies the way ahead for these programs, Ketchum said it’s already well-versed in the creative, cost-effective ways of operating laid out in the defense strategic guidance issued in January.

“We have been doing that in Southcom already for a very long time,” he said. “You start to talk about low cost, small footprint, efficient ways of doing business, and [Air Force] Gen. [Douglas W.] Fraser, [Southcom’s commander], would say you are describing Southcom.”

For example, a unique organizational construct at the command helps ensure its theater engagement efforts build on each other without expensive and unnecessary overlap. Unlike other geographic combatant commands that spread these programs across a variety of staff offices, Southcom consolidates them under one umbrella – the J7 theater engagement directorate that reports directly to Fraser.

“At the very elementary level, this prevents duplication,” Ketchum said. “You don’t want to have one program doing something and another program doing something very similar – the left hand not talking to the right hand – to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

But more importantly, we are looking for synergy,” he said.

Ketchum used the example of a security assistance effort that helps a partner nation’s military acquire new boats to patrol its waterways. “Wouldn’t it make sense, right after that, to come in and provide training to the operators and maintainers?” he said. “And then maybe after that, wouldn’t it make sense to have them participate in an exercise using that asset?”

The Secure Seas maritime security assistance initiative, managed by U.S. Southern Command, is helping in this way. The United States is providing interceptor boats and associated equipment, state-of-the-art command and control communications systems and training and technical support to nine Eastern Caribbean nations to help them deter threats associated with transnational organized crime.

Marine Forces South Commander Maj. Gen. John M. Croley joined U.S. Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Larry L. Palmer at the first delivery ceremony, in Dominica, May 31. The initial delivery package included similar provisions for Grenada and St. Lucia.

This building-block approach to theater engagement works particularly well when the staff who oversee each piece of the larger effort work closely together and report to the same boss, Ketchum said. “Organizationally, it is much easier if they are all part of the staff where individuals providing the equipment are sitting in the next cubicle or down the hall from the guy who is organizing the training,” he said. “That’s what we have here in the new U.S. Southern Command headquarters building.”

The new headquarters, which opened in December 2010 and replaced numerous smaller buildings in the Miami area, also includes representatives from other agencies who bring insights and experience to the decision-making process.

“The whole idea is to look at this holistically, to take all our tools, and with that awareness and visibility, to look at a whole-of-government approach,” Ketchum said. “It is absolutely critical to everything we do here at Southcom. It’s not a sound bite. It’s something we have embraced.”

Contact Author

Army Maj. Gen. Gerald W. Ketchum

Related Sites:
U.S. Southern Command

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Reserves attached to Special Marine Air-Ground Task Force-24 join Marines from nine other nations during the Partnership of the Americas / Southern Exchange multinational exercise in Ancon, Peru, July 7, 2010. Photo by Peruvian Marine Sgt. Apumavta   
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