Commando competition promotes special ops skills, collaboration

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
As elite commandos from across the Western Hemisphere compete this week in a grueling counterterrorism and special operations skills competition, the commander of Special Operations Command South said they're building the relationships required to confront transnational organized crime gripping much of the region.

Fuerzas Comando 2012 kicked off this week at the Colombian National Training Center in Tolemaida, Colombia.

Competitors from 21 nations across the Americas and the Caribbean are taking part in the ninth annual event, sponsored by U.S. Southern Command and designed to promote military-to-military relationships, increased interoperability and improved regional security, Navy Rear Adm. Thomas L. Brown, II, told American Forces Press Service.

The participants in this year's Fuerzas Comando hail from The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Uruguay.

The eight-day competition consists of sniper, assault, aquatic, physical fitness, strength and endurance events that challenge commandos psychologically, as well as physically. It will wrap up with a multinational airborne operation and wing exchange June 13, with a closing ceremony the next day.

The event has sparked healthy competition among participants, Brown said, but added that they also get to learn a lot about other regional forces and how they operate. "The practical side is that we gain a better understanding of each other's equipment, capabilities and skills," he said.

Along with better understanding, he said competitors develop the kind of mutual trust they need to work together.

"Special operations is a very human-centric business," Brown said. "It's not as much dependent on platforms and technical capabilities. It is really about people. Relationships are critical ... to confront the threats that we face in the hemisphere together."

Transnational organized criminals, violent extremist groups and dangerous non-state actors present a particular challenge because they operate without respect for national boundaries and sovereignty, he noted.

Nations working to confront them don't have that advantage.

"We must respect them, so we have to overcome that advantage through increased cooperation and increased information flow wherever we can," Brown said. "In a nutshell, that's the science behind why we have to work hard at this."

As special operators test their tactical skills this week, their senior military and government leaders are coming together in Bogota to explore ways to promote those efforts. Each participating nation has sent senior special operations commandos and ministerial-level policymakers associated with the country's terrorism policies, procedures and strategies to the seminar.

"This is the one forum that we have annually where we can come together as a region and talk about ideas, (about how to) increase our effect, collectively, against these dangerous non-state-actor threats we face," Brown said.

Representatives of Southcom, U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. interagency will participate in panel discussions and speaker engagements designed to stimulate dialogue about transnational organized crime and ways to address it. They'll share best practices and lessons learned by U.S. special operators and tips about tools they've found valuable, particularly low-cost ones with a high return.

"You just can't have enough communication on that," Brown said said.

While acknowledging a temptation to overload participants with as much information as possible, Brown said he's committed to providing "a little less PowerPoint and more time for an exchange of ideas" that better promotes relationship-building.

Brown said he's particularly pleased that Mexico, Canada and the Bahamas -- countries that fall under U.S. Northern Command's area of responsibility - have joined this year's event.

"Many of the challenges we face are hemispheric challenges, and they don't follow a dividing line of our national security system," he said. "We have to draw (organizational command) lines somewhere, and that is fine," he continued. "But we are working hard to break down those stovepipes and ensure that Northcom and Southcom are working together as a team. And I think this exercise is an example of how we are doing that."

Brown called Fuerzas Comando 2012 and its associated senior-leader seminar examples of a concerted effort to promote regional cooperation and engagement across the special operations community.

He noted another recent example, the International Special Operations Forces Conference that Navy Adm. William H. McRaven, the Socom commander, hosted last month in Tampa. Delegates from 96 countries gathered to exchange ideas, along with their different tactics, techniques and procedures and explored ways to establish a global special operations partnership.

"I watch the region's special operations leaders making connections and increasing the level and value of the cooperation between them," Brown said. "And I see that as a direct outshoot of exercises and forums where we develop these relationships between special operations forces across national and regional boundaries."

Brown is working with Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, the Southcom commander, to explore ways to expand these partnership-building initiatives into new areas. In doing so, he said he's tapping capabilities from throughout the Defense Department, including Socom, the Naval Postgraduate School's Center for Defense Analysis, the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies and Joint Special Operations University, as well as civilian academic institutions.

"We are increasingly working on the cognitive side, sharing ideas," and encouraging more countries to work together, multinationally, he said. "So we are increasingly trying to connect the dots across the region."

As they connect the dots, Brown said he's pleased by the media attention Fuerzas Comando is receiving. It's helping to educate to the public across the hemisphere about how the United States is cooperating and sharing ideas and facilitating cooperation in support of regional security, he said.

But Brown said it's also drawing attention to the special operators from across the region who have stood up to provide that security.

"The quality and dedication of the troops from these partner nations, the pride they show, and the important role they play in security in the region is having a direct effect on people's quality of life," he said. "And I think that's a good message to get out there."