Today, Foreign Intrigue is pleased to bring you an article by guest writer CPT Sam Rosenberg of the United States Army on military multinational partnership at the company level.
Sam is a United States Army Infantry Officer and a Downing Scholar at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program where he is an M.A. candidate. Sam has held leadership positions at the platoon and company level in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, Sam served as a senior company trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.
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Over the past decade multinational partnership and training have grown into key components of the United States’ National Security Strategy. In Iraq, Military Transition Teams rebuilt and trained army and police forces gutted by the 2003 invasion. In Afghanistan, Advise and Assist Brigades helped construct a national army and police force to replace brutal Taliban warlords. Now, the U.S. Army is adopting the concept of Regionally Aligned Forces (RAF), brigades and divisions who retain habitual training and operational relationships with specific geographic regions around the world. Under the RAF concept, American forces deploy to partnered regions and train and work with indigenous forces as a way to extend American operational reach and to build partner capacity. Under this concept, the Army also becomes more expeditionary and more attuned to international security and geopolitical issues. At the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), in Hohenfels, Germany, American units routinely train with NATO partners in both mission rehearsal exercises prior to deployments or in Decisive Action Training Environment scenarios (DATE), sharpening their skills in wide area security and combined arms maneuver. In both types of rotations, the ability of American company level leaders to work by, with, and through multinational partners is often essential for mission success. But what makes one company better than another at partnership? How can platoon leaders and squad leaders make the most out of partnered operations? Here are four suggestions? , based off countless operations with foreign security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and nearly 10 months of observing multinational rotations at JMRC, that may prove helpful to company-level leaders preparing to deploy on partnered operations.
Relationships are force multipliers.
Often, in a multinational environment, there is little reason for one side of the partnership to listen or act on what the other side is saying aside from a common end state. Typically no clear command authority is established, resulting in one side not being subordinate to the other. Consequently, the key impetus for action becomes personal relationships. In Iraq, as a young platoon leader fresh out of the basic course, I was certain that all Iraqi soldiers and police officers would listen to their American counterparts. The American Army was supposedly the best army in the world, with the most advanced technology, so why wouldn’t they listen to us? I realized early in our deployment just how wrong my expectation was when I scheduled patrols with our partnered Iraqi Army company and, much to my surprise, the soldiers rarely arrived prepared or on time. My platoon sergeant, a charismatic Iraq veteran, had a much different experience when he scheduled patrols instead me. After learning some of the language and cultivating friendships within the Iraqi unit, he would issue instructions and receive a much more favorable result from our partners. The key to his success, as I later realized, was that he simply took the time to build relationships with the Iraqis. He spent a few minutes every day joking with the Iraqi soldiers in their own language, drinking chai and never turning down a utensil-free meal. The Iraqis appreciated this and put far more weight on his instructions and ideas than anyone else.
The JMRC hosts numerous multinational rotations every year. It is not uncommon for an American platoon leader or company commander to partner with a Romanian infantry platoon or a Slovenian company as they execute their mission rehearsal exercise or DATE rotation. Normally, the multinational unit replicates a host nation security force, challenging the Americans tactically, technically, and logistically. Most of these challenges, however, could be mitigated if the units took more time to talk, listen, and learn from each other.
For example, during a recent multinational DATE rotation, an American company commander learned, just before the start of a major operation, that his partnered platoon did not bring enough ammunition for the mission. If the commander had taken the time to build a genuine working relationship with the leadership of the partnered force in advance of the operation, he may have been able to identify and prevent the ammunition shortage. The lack of ammunition embarrassed the multinational unit and frustrated the Americans. The issue soured the relationship for much of the remainder of the rotation, until both units made a concerted effort to talk and work together to achieve mutual objectives –that very thing they should have been doing since day one.
Several techniques can assist leaders in building better, more functional relationships with their multinational partners. First, leaders must learn about and understand the culture and history of the partner’s country. Included in this, they must make an effort to understand how and why the partner’s military functions. Next, leaders must treat their partnered unit as they would treat their own unit, in all aspects. Multinational partners must be included in the same meetings as their American partners, and they must be held to the same expectations as their American counterparts. Effective leaders create a battle rhythm that establishes routine, conducts regular simple meetings, and practices information sharing sessions with the partnered force. In Afghanistan, my company held weekly combined targeting meetings that served as a regular and simple way to exchange information between the American and Afghan units operating in the area. Third, breakdown physical and cultural barriers as much as the tactical situation permits and experience the same hardships as your partnered force. If partnership is uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.
Communication is the best antidote to friction.
Key to any multinational partnership is regular communication in both tactical situations and in administrative settings. Tactically, our technology and operational security measures can present a challenge in communicating with partnered forces. We very rarely have the same type of radios as our partners and operational security usually prevents us from using the same encryption keys. There are two possible ways to overcome these challenges. First, identify and remove technology and language barriers. If possible, implement a common radio over which both forces can securely communicate. Place interpreters in positions close to these radios so they can instantly relay vital information between the partnered forces. If technical or operational aspects prevent the use of a common radio between the units, build a small liaison team with security and communication specialists. One technique is to build a liaison team with a joint tactical air controller (or a joint fires observer if the controller is unavailable), a linguist, and an infantry fire team. This ensures the team has both security and highly trained radio operator with advanced equipment to convey information between partnered forces. A platoon sergeant or a senior squad leader could assist with command and control of the team while the platoon leader or company commander focuses on management of the entire operation.
Second, develop a clear and concise radio distribution plan for each mission, mapping which key leaders have each type of radio and explaining the frequencies on which each leader will operate. If possible, overlay the radio distribution plan onto the unit concept sketch to ensure all elements have the correct communication method. Next, practice radio communications between all elements during rehearsals, ensuring the partners understand how, when, and to whom they should relay information.
Linguist management is decisive.
In multinational partnership, language barriers almost always present a challenge to effective communication. This, of course, is where linguists come into play. But just having a linguist is not enough. A unit must properly track, manage, and employ linguists in order to reap the full benefits of partnership—or in other words, treat linguist management as a decisive operation. First, weigh the decisive operation with enablers. This means putting your best and brightest non-commissioned or commissioned officers in charge of linguist support, scheduling, pay, and leave. Second, ensure your shaping operations are nested with the decisive operation. This means optimizing the use of the right linguists for the right operations at the best possible times.
Too often units mismanage or fail to properly employ their linguists, damaging their partnership and the relationship with the local population. For example, during one particular rotation at JMRC, we received special administrative (civilian) linguists to facilitate communication between observers and the foreign training unit, which also happened to have an American liaison team. In order to communicate with the embedded American liaison team, the training unit had tactical interpreters, who are active members of the foreign military unit. Typically, these tactical interpreters are not nearly as well trained in English as the administrative (civilian) interpreters, so the training units tend to gravitate toward the more skilled English speakers. Consequently, the relationship between the training unit and the tactical linguists is damaged and the training value of the rotation for the tactical interpreters is limited. Instead of relying on the administrative interpreters, the unit should focus on strengthening the capabilities of their tactical linguists. If a unit has weak or untrained linguists, build a training plan to improve their language skills. If you have a weak fire team, you don’t just accept their deficiencies. Build a training plan to make them better. Linguists should be treated no differently.
These challenges can be avoided by assigning a motivated and knowledgeable manager to track and employ the unit’s linguists. In Afghanistan, my battalion hand-picked our headquarters platoon sergeant to serve as the battalion linguist manger. At the time, I was frustrated because the NCO the battalion chose was critical to our command post. He was diligent and hard-working. He needed little guidance to accomplish tasks and he understood the bigger picture. He was, much to my chagrin, the perfect choice. If picking a particular person to serve as a linguist manager hurts, then you have picked the right person. Too often units choose the former squad leader with an attitude problem or the NCO that is more focused on retirement than actually contributing to the unit. These units pay for those choices when linguists threaten to quit at inopportune times or when the linguists refuse to patrol or translate documents. Remember: poor linguist managers often result in weak linguists, which in turn leads to operational confusion. In my battalion’s case, we had comparatively few issues because we picked the right person for the right job. Our linguist manager treated our linguists with care, skill, and purpose.
Rehearsals, Rehearsals, Rehearsals
Rehearsals are an effective way to practice and synchronize key portions of an operation, address contingencies, identify decision points, and mitigate risk and operational friction. The criticality of rehearsals is amplified in multinational operations due to inherent language, cultural and tactical differences between units. Multinational rehearsals require unique considerations to maximize effectiveness and ensure mission success. First, rehearse before the rehearsal. A company or battalion combined arms rehearsal may be overwhelming and intimidating to our partners. The structure and briefing order may be confusing, too. Practicing the process beforehand may ease some of the concerns of the partnered force. Next, execute the rehearsal in clear, concise, easy-to-understand terms without excessive use of acronyms that many foreign militaries find difficult, if not impossible, to understand. Explain the operation in terms that every Soldier at any level in any army can understand. Instead of saying, “We will move at a 73-degree azimuth for two clicks over undulating terrain before reaching a linear danger area”; try using language like, “We will move generally northeast for approximately 30 minutes, moving uphill and downhill along the way before reaching a small stream.” Using simple, more direct language will paint a clear picture of the operation for everyone involved. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, address in-depth the contingencies the unit may encounter during the operation. These contingency plans should include all eight forms of contact (direct fire, indirect fire, non-hostile, obstacle, chemical/biological/radioactive/nuclear (CBRN) considerations, air threats, visual contact, and electronic attacks).
Sometimes, Less is More. Don’t Pass Up the Chance to Say Nothing and Just Listen
No one likes a know-it-all, and after fighting two wars over thirteen years in partnership with large, diverse coalitions, chances are that some of our allies see the U.S. Army that way. On my own deployments, I’ve watched American mentors grow impatient working with their partners. Instead of empowering their partnered force to solve problems, the Americans solve the problems themselves, but in a very American way that ignores key cultural issues. To paraphrase T.E. Lawrence: do not do too much with your own hands; better to let your partnered force develop their own, more culturally attuned solutions. And sometimes it is better yet to say and do nothing at all; rather, simply listen to your partnered forces and understand their priorities and their constraints, because often times they are far different from our own.
The size of the U.S. Army is shrinking, the war in Afghanistan is ending, and budget constraints continue yet the world remains a very dangerous place. With a military that is increasingly pressured by these factors, the future in force projection may very well be in security cooperation and multinational partnership. The U.S. Army of tomorrow may be able to project just as much influence as the larger Army of yesterday through concerted strategic focus on multinational partnerships, regional alignment, and security cooperation. This strategy will require company level leaders to be well versed and comfortable with the nuances of working with partnered forces in diverse regions like Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Pacific-Asia region. Army leaders must remember that relationships are force multipliers, linguists can be decisive, and when to simply listen. These lessons will help our platoon leaders and company commanders take the high ground with their multinational partners on future battlefields.
(Featured photo: An American mechanized infantry company commander works with French and Albanian platoon leaders to establish defensive positions during decisive action training at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.)
CPT Sam Rosenberg is a United States Army Infantry Officer. Sam is a Downing Scholar at Georgetown’s Security Studies Program where he is a Master of Arts candidate. Sam has held leadership positions at the platoon and company level in deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Most recently, Sam served as a senior company trainer at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany.