Monday, September 13, 2010

Pacific Endeavor; improving interoperability and building relationships

by Lt. Theresa Donnelly, Pacific Command Public Affairs

Getting the opportunity to travel overseas is something I always love to do. In fact, being in the military often gives me these chances. However, what is really fulfilling for me is seeing the Pacific Command strategy in action.

This was the case a couple weeks back when I traveled to Singapore to promote Pacific Endeavor, a humanitarian communication workshop with 16 Asia-Pacific nations hosted by the Singapore Armed Forces and U.S. Pacific Command. Held Aug. 16-27, Pacific Endeavor used a real-life scenario (a massive earthquake in metro Manila) to access and document how countries would use communication technologies most effectively during a natural disaster.

Pacific Endeavor demonstrated to me that ideas can start out small and then make a big impact. Let me explain. In 2002, Ricardo Layne was working in the Pacific Command communications directorate (J6) and had the thought that if he could network with military communicators from the Asia-Pacific region, he would increase the military’s ability to rapidly respond to a variety of war fighting contingencies and natural disasters. In 2003, a handful of nations came to Hawaii and held a conference. Although not officially named Pacific Endeavor, the idea was hatched. At first, the conference centered on technical ways to merry up communication technologies among participating nations, but today this mission has greatly expanded.

Now, each year 22 nations are invited (16 attended this year) to what has become an operational workshop under PACOM’s multinational communication interoperability program. The workshop included a real-life scenario and humanitarian organizations and private industry played key roles, demonstrating how they set up communications during a natural disaster.

Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Mongolia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Australia, Maldives, Brunei and New Zealand are some of the nations that make up this diverse collection of people who came to Singapore for one common purpose – agreed upon communication procedures to save lives in a natural disaster.

What was amazing about this workshop is that it speaks to what the U.S. military is all about – building strategic partnerships with other countries. By understanding one another and how other nations communicate, we prevent misunderstandings and more importantly, I think we can even prevent armed conflicts. With the enormous amount of commerce (about 1.5 trillion dollars yearly) that flows through the Asia-Pacific region through regional trade, it is imperative nations find ways to establish positive relationships. This, in my view, is the only way to ensure long-term regional stability and security. This policy speaks to the heart of why I am proud to serve in the military, specifically at U.S. Pacific Command. Achieving a common operational picture puts every country at the solution to common issues and allows us to share best practices with one another.

With the Asia-Pacific region so prone to weather-related disasters, it only makes sense that we train with other nations on our preplanned disaster responses. Pacific Endeavor lays the ground work for an increased focus for furthering our partnerships. And not only partnerships with other countries, but with non-governmental organizations and private industry. Going forward, my hope is that more countries and NGOs will take part in Pacific Endeavor, as well as more private industry; as they too play a key advisement role in emerging technologies which greatly enhances the communication field. We should also invite other key directorates, such as exercise planning and operations.

So as mentioned earlier, a little idea from one PACOM directorate is now having a big impact. This year, workshop planners employed web 2.0 technologies such as All Partners Access Network (APAN) and used state-of-the-art routers to demonstrate procedures to communicate quickly. Rapid communications in a natural disaster is everything to effective response – it only makes sense that poor set up of a communication infrastructure will cause devastating consequences. It is a true testament to the military’s commitment to effectively preplan that allows programs like Pacific Endeavor to continue.

On an emotional level, life-long friendships are formed and many of the participants have been with the program since its inception. Many people I spoke with at the workshop discussed their loyalty to Pacific Endeavor based not only on the objectives met during the scenario, but on the personal friendships they have formed over the years. One communicator even mentioned his ability to obtain communication clearances in certain countries faster based on his interpersonal relationships.

Every Pacific Endeavor has a cultural day, where attendees tour historical sites, museums, and other well-known locations of the host nation. There are also dinners and other team-building events. Much of what happens in an informal setting increases the dialogue and cooperation with each other.

The military achieves its success by fostering relationships that open the dialogue for increased cooperation and understanding. Working with other government agencies, NGOs, host nation militaries, and private industry is what makes the military stronger. Together we achieve more and can be open to new ideas and innovative technologies. I look forward to having opportunities to promote workshops, such as Pacific Endeavor and am excited to witness the growth of such an important PACOM program

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