Army Reserve Seeks to Expand Cooperation Plans

LILONGWE, Malawi, May 16, 2011 — The after-action reports still are works in progress after a suc­cess­ful MEDREACH 11 med­ical human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance exer­cise that wrapped up here May 13, but the Army Reserve already is explor­ing ways to expand its par­tic­i­pa­tion in the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion engage­ments in Africa and else­where.

Army Sgt. Jef­frey S. Nie­mi, an Army reservist with the 399th Com­bat Sup­port Hos­pi­tal, assists Sgt. McDon­ald Linya­ma of the Malawi Defense Force in assess­ing Army Sgt. Robert E. Waight, who is role-play­ing as a patient dur­ing com­bat life-saver train­ing in Lilong­we, Malawi, May 5, 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. Jesse Houk
Click to enlarge

Near­ly half of the par­tic­i­pants in U.S. Army Africa’s first MEDREACH exer­cise, which began May 3, were Army reservists, most of them assigned to the Boston-based 399th Com­bat Sup­port Hos­pi­tal. Work­ing along­side the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard’s 404th Maneu­ver Enhance­ment Brigade, which pro­vid­ed com­mand and con­trol for the exer­cise, and small teams of Air Force Reserve den­tists and active-duty Army oph­thal­mol­o­gists, they pro­vid­ed the bulk of the man­pow­er to teach med­ical skills to Malawi Defense Force medics and pro­vide med­ical and den­tal treat­ments at three out­reach clin­ics dur­ing the exercise. 

Addi­tion­al Army Reserve sol­diers con­tributed civ­il affairs and mil­i­tary infor­ma­tion sup­port oper­a­tions exper­tise to the mis­sion. These the­ater coop­er­a­tion engage­ments sup­port the broad­er U.S. strat­e­gy in the region, explained J.T. Ice, polit­i­cal-mil­i­tary advi­sor at the U.S. Embassy in Lilongwe.

MEDREACH 11 pro­mot­ed two spe­cif­ic U.S. Mis­sion Malawi goals for the Malawi Defense Force, he said. It increased its capac­i­ty to con­duct peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions on the African con­ti­nent, and it helped Malawi become a stronger part­ner in respond­ing to human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter response crises. The exer­cise is an exam­ple of the “whole of gov­ern­ment” approach to U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy objec­tives, with the mil­i­tary dove­tail­ing with its State Depart­ment, U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment and Peace Corps coun­ter­parts to sup­port com­mon goals, Ice said. 

“Work­ing the inter­a­gency is the future. We have got­ten our march­ing orders that the dif­fer­ent parts of gov­ern­ment will – not may – work togeth­er on these issues,” he said. “And here at the U.S. mis­sion in Malawi, the coun­try team under­stands that it takes dif­fer­ent parts of gov­ern­ment work­ing togeth­er on these issues.” 

Army Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, said he wants to see his troops play a big­ger part in these engage­ments, par­tic­u­lar­ly as wartime demands in Iraq and Afghanistan sub­side. The Army Reserve pro­vides many of the enabling capa­bil­i­ties the active com­po­nent has come to rely on, par­tic­u­lar­ly in areas such as civ­il affairs, trans­porta­tion and engi­neer­ing. Stultz said he sees no end to demand for these capa­bil­i­ties, even after the cur­rent oper­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan con­clude. He cit­ed “pent-up demand” among U.S. Africa Com­mand and oth­er geo­graph­ic com­mands that he said would love to tap into Army Reserve capa­bil­i­ties to sup­port more the­ater engage­ment activ­i­ties such as MEDREACH 11. 

The Army Reserve already sup­ports many of these efforts: med­ical sup­port and engi­neer­ing mis­sions in Cen­tral Amer­i­ca and the Caribbean as well as Africa, and aboard U.S. South­ern Command’s Con­tin­u­ing Promise and U.S. Pacif­ic Command’s Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship med­ical missions. 

Stultz said com­bat­ant com­man­ders get excit­ed when he sug­gests con­tribut­ing addi­tion­al Army Reserve capa­bil­i­ties to enhance these activ­i­ties. “What if in the future – when these units are in the [Army Force Gen­er­a­tion] mod­el and when there is no require­ment for them in Iraq and Afghanistan – I could give you these units for 90 days at a time?” he asks, rather than the cur­rent two or three weeks. 

“Their eyes light up,” he told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice. “They say, ‘Now you are talk­ing about real­ly expand­ing our hori­zons as far as engage­ment strat­e­gy, if we were able to build a strat­e­gy around that capability.’ ” 

The approach could be used to fine-tune reserve-com­po­nent capa­bil­i­ties, he said, while putting no addi­tion­al bur­den on the active force. Army Lt. Col. Kle­mens “Van” Schmidt is on the lead­ing edge of a divi­sion being estab­lished to help in mak­ing Stultz’s vision a real­i­ty. “I am the guy try­ing to fig­ure out busi­ness prac­tices for the Army Reserve, or to take all those pre-exist­ing busi­ness prac­tices we have and then try to put it into one well-work­ing mech­a­nism,” he said. 

With two years of expe­ri­ence as U.S. Africa Command’s deputy for human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and pro­gram man­ag­er for mil­i­tary and civic assis­tance under his belt, Schmidt said the Army Reserve is par­tic­u­lar­ly well-suit­ed to sup­port some of the oper­a­tions for which he has helped to lay ground­work. Its struc­ture is heavy with “enablers” – the com­bat sup­port and com­bat ser­vice sup­port capa­bil­i­ties as impor­tant to these engage­ments as to com­bat oper­a­tions, he noted. 

This blend of capa­bil­i­ties is ide­al for many the­ater engage­ment mis­sions such as MEDREACH 11, said Navy Cmdr. Jonathan Adams, exer­cise plan­ner for Africom. Many of the par­tic­i­pants are doc­tors, nurs­es and oth­er med­ical pro­fes­sion­als in their civil­ian careers, and also have oper­a­tional expe­ri­ence from deploy­ments to Iraq and Afghanistan. “So they bring an added lev­el of pro­fes­sion­al­ism and exper­tise in these spe­cif­ic areas we are deal­ing with,” he said. But beyond that, the reserve com­po­nent has a man­pow­er pool able to sup­port the Africom exer­cise program. 

“The biggest thing is that they are avail­able,” Adams said. “The [active] Army is stretched very thin, but we want to have engage­ment. So they are a very use­ful, viable source of man­pow­er to do these exercises.” 

As they con­tribute need­ed capa­bil­i­ties in exer­cis­es such as MEDREACH 11, Schmidt said, they real­ize an often-over­looked pay­off in terms of mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion­al skills train­ing. Work­ing with their Malawi mil­i­tary coun­ter­parts, par­tic­i­pants oper­at­ed in aus­tere envi­ron­ments not found in the Unit­ed States, and expo­sure to dis­eases and chal­lenges not seen at home, he explained. 

Schmidt empha­sized the impor­tance of work­ing with the host nation dur­ing mis­sions such as MEDREACH 11 to ensure that what’s start­ed can be sustained. 

“Just going to one loca­tion at one time and giv­ing 30 days of vit­a­mins is just that – 30 days of vit­a­mins. These episod­ic, one-time events are only one-time events,” he said. “You want to have some­thing more sustainable.” 

With an expand­ed role in secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion and inter­na­tion­al engage­ments, the Army Reserve can help to pro­vide that sus­tain­able sup­port, Schmidt said. “We get won­der­ful expe­ri­ence” from even short, one-time engage­ments, he said. “But if we can get anoth­er group to come in a year lat­er, six months lat­er, that would be wonderful.” 

Reoc­cur­ring engage­ments help build rela­tion­ships and cred­i­bil­i­ty about U.S. inten­tions in Africa, he said. Ulti­mate­ly, Schmidt said, that’s the foun­da­tion for strong part­ner­ships need­ed to address region­al chal­lenges, whether nat­ur­al dis­as­ters or ene­my threats. 

Mean­while, Stultz not­ed anoth­er con­sid­er­a­tion in tap­ping Army reservists to sup­port these engage­ments: the troops them­selves. He’s con­vinced that after play­ing key roles in an oper­a­tional reserve, they’ll nev­er be sat­is­fied revert­ing to their long-aban­doned “week­end war­rior” status. 

“We have cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment and cul­ture that [the sol­diers] want to be part of and that they feel good about,” he said. “We have Army Reservists [for whom] two weeks at home sta­tion ain’t gonna cut it any­more,” agreed Schmidt. “They want to go out and do some­thing excit­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly the ones who have been deployed. They have seen the good­ness they can do, and they want to con­tin­ue to do that. 

“And we want them to con­tin­ue to do that,” he con­tin­ued, “because A, it retains them, and B, it is good for their [spe­cial­ty] skills – the train­ing they get in those aus­tere places.” 

Army Spc. Bri­an Zim­mer­man, a mem­ber of the Army Reserve’s 403rd Civ­il Affairs Bat­tal­ion in Syra­cuse, N.Y., said he jumped at the oppor­tu­ni­ty to par­tic­i­pate in MEDREACH 11 and would wel­come more, longer engagements. 

“It’s mean­ing­ful, and I can’t over­state the expe­ri­ence we’ve got­ten from this,” he said, shak­ing hands with Malaw­ian civil­ians as they filed from a tent, mos­qui­to nets in hand, fol­low­ing a class in malar­ia pre­ven­tion. “We are doing some­thing. We are help­ing. I wish we could be here longer, because the work we are doing here real­ly matters.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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