By Jim Dolbow
In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently had the opportunity to e-interview Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, USAF, Commander, Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) about Operation Southern Partner. General Seip is one of this nation’s leading authorities on the military’s role in soft power. Early readers of this blog will recall I e-interviewed Gen. Seip earlier this year here, here, and here.
How do you measure the success of missions like Operation Southern Partner?
I believe the success of Operation Southern Partner isn’t measured by our team here at Air Forces Southern – it’s measured by partner nation military and law enforcement participants. The feedback we’ve received from the nations participating in OSP exchanges has been overwhelmingly positive. The tactics, techniques, procedures and ideas exchanged during OSP have an immediate and long-lasting impact on participants. For example, the life saving skills learned during a first responder or disaster response exchange are concepts participants can use in any number of emergencies in their personal and professional lives; anything from a car accident to the aftermath of a major hurricane.
The Air Chiefs and leaders I meet in the region often comment on the impact of these peer-to-peer exchanges -our Airmen, officers and enlisted, are role models, professionals and experts in their field, so the information and experience they bring with them to missions such as OSP is invaluable in preparing the next generation of officers and non-commissioned leaders within Latin America and the Caribbean.
OSP is the chance for Airmen to have a positive influence on those future leaders by empowering them with technical knowledge while building their professional network. It’s important to understand that these exchanges don’t end when Airmen return to their bases. The relationships continue; an aircraft maintainer might email the sergeant he worked with during OSP for advice in the future….the initial exchanges are only the beginning of long-term partnerships between Airmen and their counterparts.
OSP participants are excited to continue working with our Airmen. Partner nations are the ones who let me know if our programs are worthwhile – and they can’t wait to begin the next OSP, cooperation team event or exchange. To me, that’s success.
What are some of the lessons learned from Operation Southern Partner?
The most important lesson Operation Southern Partner has taught our planners is what particular skills are in demand by partner nations. Each of the exchanges is focused on an area of expertise identified by the partner nation during the planning process. We’re ensuring the agenda is set by participating nations – not by planners thousands of miles away.
Other lessons we’ve learned from OSP are the many challenges of deploying Airmen to the U.S. Southern Command area of focus. OSP is a great opportunity for our various staff offices to execute their processes and procedures; departments ranging from personnel, aircraft schedulers and contracting, to operations and cargo handlers, as well as, command and control functions. When an emergency does arise, our team is better able to respond across the region because we’ve practiced these functions during OSP. Most importantly, the relationships built between participants during their exchanges help to prepare us to work together during future contingency operations.
What would you say to the naysayers that question the value of cooperative exchange missions like OSP?
The proof of this formula is in the response Airmen receive during and after OSP. Southern Partner is a great event-but it’s only the beginning of our involvement with partner nations. Afterwards, Airmen are able to address issues brought up during their exchanges with other engagement programs such Cooperation Teams and mobile training events.
As I said before, OSP is the beginning of a relationship between professionals of the same career field. Participants are able to build their network and reach back to the people they’ve worked with for tips and guidance. Participants are better maintainers, doctors, logisticians or safety officers when they can tap into the combined knowledge of their peers. That’s the value of OSP – as partner nation Airmen use the knowledge and professional network they’ve developed to progress and become the next generation of First Sergeants, Commanders and leaders.
I firmly believe OSP exchanges will save lives. The real value of OSP will be demonstrated during the next crisis (such as a hurricane or earthquake) when a participating nation is able to respond in a more effective manner while working closely with U.S. military first responders. The skills participants developed during OSP will help these nations to assist their citizens; and the relationships OSP fostered will lead to a more cooperative effort between our militaries.
When is the next Operation Southern Partner?
While we don’t have a firm date at this point, we’re looking to conduct the next Operation Southern Partner late this year or early 2010. The region we’ll focus on for the third iteration will be partner nations in Central America.
Jim, sincerely hope you (and your readers) will join us for the next Operation Southern Partner!
Many thanks to General Seip for his outstanding responses and to Captain Nathan Broshear, 12th Air Force Public Affairs, for making this e-interview happen.