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NEWS | Sept. 1, 2021

Army South-led CENTAM Working Group allows for future exercise planning in Latin America

By Donald Sparks U.S. Army South Public Affairs

U.S. Army South hosted the second annual Central American Working Group, or CENTAM WG, with army staff leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as part of a virtual event Aug. 23-27 at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston to continue to seek training opportunities between the four armies.

During last year’s inaugural meeting, the Salvadoran Army agreed to host a tri-border exercise between the three Latin American armies in 2022; and at the conclusion of this year’s meeting, all of the participating armies were optimistic in the exercise planning.

“I believe this week has been very fruitful for our planning efforts for CENTAM Guardian,” said Col. Oscar Antonio Morales Peñate, El Salvador Army director of operations. “We look forward to strengthening our relationship with Guatemala and Honduras, as we share the same threats between our borders. We’re on a great path, and it’s important that we are willing to plan together in order to meet all the objectives for next year’s exercise.”

The purpose of the CENTAM WG is to promote readiness-focused bilateral efforts that enhance interoperability, contribute to the readiness of the total force, and improve U.S. and partners’ land forces capabilities to address current and future strategic, operational, and tactical security challenges within the Western Hemisphere. Additionally, the meeting provided an update on the CENTAM Guardian exercise and a roadmap towards the execution of the interoperability border exercise.

Col. Jeff Lopez, Army South Security Cooperation Division chief and head of the U.S. Army Delegation, expressed U.S. objectives the command seeks to achieve over the next five years.

“This is beneficial for Army South as we develop bilateral agreements with our partner nation to synchronize our regional efforts,” Lopez said. “This week allows us to identify resources and training opportunities to ensure our collective security and defense through shared responsibility.”

On the first day of the plenum, each of the CENTAM army leaders presented an operational overview of their armies and the challenges they are facing. Subsequently, over the next three days, Army South staff conducted bilateral meetings to review agreed-to-actions in which the U.S. Army coordinated with each individual army.

Bilateral agreements were refined to support ARSOUTH lines of effort in the areas of communications, doctrine development and sharing, lessons learned, countering transnational threats and border security, intelligence, logistics and public affairs.

“The strengthening of our relationships from the activities of this week is a common benefit for all the Central American armies,” said Col. Jorge Mario Alvarado Torres, chief of operations, Plans and Orders Department of the Guatemalan General Defense Staff. “We can improve our capabilities development as an army to combat different threats. This is our work, this is our mission.”

Following the CENTAM WG, the staff members will continue developing the areas identified for cooperation through March 2022, where senior leaders representing all four armies will come together in Guatemala City to validate and confirm activities over five years during the Meeting of Principals.

“The working group is a great opportunity for all participants to share information, lessons learned and best practices at the senior staff level; this will allow us all to speak the ‘same language’ and be more responsive to our countries’ and region’s needs,” said Marco Rosito, Central America and Caribbean desk officer, Army South SCD. “The bonds of friendship transcend country and cultural hang-ups and helps to forge a more effective response in support of our countries’ priorities. Conducting this working group in alternating countries in the region helps us to build on each other’s strengths and learn to count on our partners where necessary.”