US Army Africa Contingency Command Post soldiers last month hosted a familiarisation visit for six South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers as part of preparation for Shared Accord 13 (SA13), a joint peacekeeping and humanitarian exercise scheduled for July.
The visit to Vicenza, Italy, part of a contingency command post (CCP) command post exercise (CPX), was the first time US Army Africa (USARAF) incorporated a partner nation in an exercise prior to going to Africa, which participants saw as beneficial.
Colonel Vuka Sean Mahlasela, 44 Parachute Regiment Commander, said the exercise helped both forces learn to co-operate with each other and improved the relationship between the US and South Africa.
“Joint and multi-national operations have become the norm. National defence forces play a significant role to be able to operate with regional, international and multi-national forces to test tactics and share skills and knowledge as well as learn from each other,” Mahlasela said.
Some of the training in which SANDF participated included basic command and control of a multi-national exercise; intricacies of joint task force operations; requirements of different logistical infrastructures and proposed ways on how to run meetings, which the US military calls “Seven-Minute Drills”.
Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Saatkamp, CCP executive officer, said key tasks for the CPX were to familiarise the SANDF with combined joint task force headquarters capabilities and battle rhythms; rehearse combined command post structure incorporating both countries and rehearse command and control procedures in a non-secure network environment.
Saatkamp said some training the SANDF participated in was based on the scenario written by SANDF exercise directors for Shared Accord 13.
“Anytime you open a dialogue with someone from a different culture and it’s a positive one based on mutual experience being in the military, you start to build trust. That trust leads to capacity building capabilities between two countries,” Saatkamp said.
SANDF Lieutenant Colonel Gus Claassens, scenario drafter and exercise concept designer for Shared Accord 13, agreed that mutual trust was crucial in these types of exercises, and explained why the CPX is important for American and South African soldiers.
“It is important on two levels: first, to develop skills of own soldiers, compared with a first-world country, for our own purposes. Secondly, to enable international co-operation because the world is shrinking and the Army is busy getting more involved in Africa, so at one point in time we’ll end up working shoulder-to-shoulder. Commonality is important,” he said.
Major Ivan Palacios, CCP CPX planner, said the overall objective of the CPX is for USARAF and SANDF soldiers to establish a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities for the CJTF (Combined Joint Task Force) during SA 13. In the end both forces were able to take away valuable knowledge and experience from the CPX.
“The SANDF will take back to their leadership how to better synchronise and collaborate with the US. This is the success achieved and will set us up for long-term success during Shared Accord in July,” he said.
“Our soldiers are taking away that the military decision making process is important going into any operation and they have learned to ask thought provoking questions prior to execution,” Palacios said.
Mahlasela agreed the CPX was mutually beneficial for both parties. “We learned from each other our different ways of completing the mission. We now know when challenges occur, we will learn how to mitigate circumstances and it will create platforms to know each other on an individual basis and provide opportunities to share the different skills each force possesses,” he said.