NEWS | Oct. 15, 2015

U.S. Army South's Colombian staff talks offer opportunities to build lasting relationships

U.S. Army South Public Affairs

A delegation of U.S. Army South colonels and lieutenant colonels representing 10 directorates within the organization traveled to Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 21 to engage in the seventh-annual staff talks steering committee.  


The U.S. Army Staff Talks Program serves as a bilateral forum for strategic-level discussions between respective armies. U.S. Army South, on behalf of the Chief of Staff of the Army, engages in annual bilateral staff talks with these countries to promote peace, security and stability in Central and South America and the Caribbean through mutual understanding, partnership and cooperation.

Essential to establishing lasting military-to-military relationships, staff talks capture mutually agreed upon plans and objectives derived from days-long conversations and engagement, between direct counterpart action officers and decision makers from both armies’ Personnel (G-1), Intelligence (G-2), Operations (G-3), Logistics (G-4), Plans (G-5), Civil Affairs (G-9), Engineer and Medical Command sections.

This year, U.S. Army South also received support from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC, a Department of Defense institute located at Fort Benning, Ga., responsible for providing training to government personnel in US-allied Latin American nations.

Also in attendance this year was Alex Sonski, Colombian desk officer for the Army’s operational International Affairs Division, who provided valuable input along with Lt. Col. David King, South Carolina National Guard State Partnership Program Director, strategic plans and policy for international affairs.

This year’s staff talks kicked off with motivationally directed guidance from Maj. Gen. Alberto Jose Mejia Ferrero, Colombian army commander. 

“We don’t want the U.S. to teach us how to crawl, but rather develop plans to attack strategic issues,” Mejia said.

Mejia provided an inside look of his vision, on the future of the Colombian army, mentioning during the opening ceremony, a forthcoming complete revision of doctrine for the Colombian army. 

The Columbian general stressed that with the support of the international community the army will be able to sell its message, which he said is to “protect the people of Colombia and win our nation’s wars.”

Mejia emphasized the strategic importance of the U.S. supporting Colombia.

“We need knowledge in order to produce change amidst the tsunami of threats,” he said.

Each directorate focused their attempts in echo of these sentiments and guidance from Mejia as well as the guidance from U.S. Army South Commander Maj. Gen. K.K. Chinn.

“Moving the ball down the field and not reinventing the wheel,” was the mantra as each directorate overcame communication boundaries and devoted energy to developing strategic bilateral objectives and supporting “agreed-to” actions.

The Colombian lead for this year’s staff talks was Col. Carlos Augusto Barbosa Fontecha, director of Organization Plans and International Relations.

A few of the objectives on the Colombian agenda included: the Colombian army becoming operationally and tactically interoperable with North Atlantic Treaty Organization and United Nations forces; the ability for the Colombian army to improve its logistical sustainment capabilities and operations in transition and post conflict; the Colombian army’s ability to implement changes to the doctrine of support and health services; and during the process of transformation of their army, the ability to strengthen the capabilities of action integral to the mission of engineers.

Establishing strategic tasks for eight objectives was the initial goal going in to the talks, though flexibility and creativity were essential in achieving a shared vision.

After eight consecutive hours of engaging his Colombian army counterpart on the second day of talks, G-3 director Col. Lance Moore concluded, “The Colombian army is a tremendously capable partner. It will take continuous, focused efforts to help them achieve their transformational goals as an army.”

Col. John Hale, G-5 director, echoed Moore’s assessment and said he believes that in the past seven years the U.S. and Colombian armies have built a solid relationship,

“We get better together, learning from each other and our experiences,” Hale said.

Col. Angela Mysliwiec, command surgeon, had the opportunity to engage in partner talks with Lt. Col. Ximena Sofia Caycedo, a member of the Colombian army serving in the medical operations field. The top two objectives discussed on day one for the medical professionals were force health protection and operational medicine.

Caycedo hopes that by the end of the week’s talks, she and Mysliwiec will be able to create new implementations for the doctrine and instruction being created in their field.

“We have a strong purpose for increasing levels of support for combat operations. The reason and purpose behind what I do is to help the soldier and provide a better quality of life for them, Caycedo explained.

This year’s director-level participation breaks new ground for U.S. Army South personnel and provides both organizations, director to director face time with one another, ensuring higher levels of theater security cooperation.

The end result from this years staff talks will occur in early 2016, when Mejia and Chinn are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding to outline specific engagements expected to occur between the U.S. and Colombian armies in 2016.

In addition to Colombia, U.S. Army South currently conducts staff talks with four other partner nation countries to include Peru, El Salvador, Brazil and Chile.