By Donna Miles American Forces Press Service - MIAMI, June 14, 2012
With the Defense Department now embracing broader, “whole of government” approaches to national security challenges, officials here at U.S. Southern Command have taken the paradigm to the next level to encompass what they call “whole-of-society solutions.”
Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas, commanding general, Joint Task Force-Haiti, and Tim Rieser, a congressional staff member, talk with several Haitians during a visit to Ancient Military Airport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, May 1, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha Parks
The command was a pioneer in integrating interagency representatives into its headquarters, Lisa Samson, the new director of Southcom’s process management analysis cell who spent a year as chief of the J9 Partnering Directorate, told American Forces Press Service. More than 30 representatives from 17 different government agencies are embedded throughout the command’s structure to support interagency coordination and collaboration.
In addition, Ambassador Carmen Martinez serves not only as senior foreign policy advisor to Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, the Southcom commander, but also as his civilian deputy.
Integrating this position into Southcom’s senior leadership underscores recognition that the agencies’ collective contributions in Central and South America and the Caribbean are far greater than the sum of their individual efforts, Martinez said. She noted the “circle of constant communication” as the agency representatives work together toward the same goals.
The State Department leads U.S. government engagement in the region, but DOD plays an important supporting role, contributing resources, personnel, expertise and technological capabilities, Martinez noted. In addition, other members of the interagency team represented in the Southcom headquarters bring different capabilities, experiences, authorities, and often, different perspectives to the mission, she said.
Martinez described their contributions as the “three legs of the stool” — the “3 Ds” that underpin the U.S. government strategy in the region: defense, development and diplomacy.
Southcom is now on the leading edge in fostering relationships with what Samson called the “fourth D” — domestic partners — that she said also play a vital theater role. These civil society and private-sector entities, academia and non-governmental and private volunteer organizations, among them, have vested interests and deep roots in the region, she noted.
In addition, they possess specialized expertise, close associations and valuable resources beyond those within the federal government, she said.
Recognizing these strengths, Fraser, the Southcom commander, has made a concerted effort to engage with these groups, some with few or no previous ties with the Defense Department.
He hosted leaders of prominent non-governmental organizations at the Southcom headquarters here in February for the third roundtable session in as many years to discuss shared interests in the region and identify common ground for addressing them. Martinez called the “frank and free-flowing discussion” promoted through these engagements an important step toward new and closer working relationships.
In March in California, Fraser again joined representatives of educational institutions, international students, federal law enforcement agencies, military organizations, international affairs groups and business leaders, for what he described as “a robust, collaborative exchange of ideas.”
“It was mutually beneficial and enlightening to share concepts and ideas regarding our collective efforts to improve security, stability and prosperity on both the domestic and international fronts,” Fraser reported in his blog following the trip. “While each organization has different charters, we all share the responsibility and desire for improving security and stability throughout the world.”
This outreach is vital, he said, particularly in light of new and evolving threats in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the efforts being conducted on a wide range of fronts to confront them.
“We need established relationships and understanding to ensure, as a command, we are prepared to integrate with other organizations that share our common goals,” he said. “Taking the time to understand and support other institutions, partners and agencies is as important, and in many situations more important, than leading the efforts ourselves.”
Samson called Southcom’s partnerships — at the interagency level and across the public and private sector — central to the command’s operations. “Working with our nontraditional military partners, we are able to leverage their resources, their expertise and their authorities,” she said. “We could not meet the challenges of this region without their partnership.”
If there’s been a single “proof of concept” that shows Southcom’s outreach is making a difference, Samson said it’s the Operation Unified Response earthquake relief effort in Haiti in 2010. During that mission — the largest-ever U.S. military response to a natural disaster overseas — the command served in a support role to the U.S. Agency for International Development and its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Tapping into interagency representatives in the headquarters staff “allowed us to reach back, interact, get their guidance, align and synchronize our efforts” to provide a better response, Samson said.
But as Army Lt. Gen. P.K. “Ken” Keen, Southcom’s military deputy commander at the time, recognized, NGOs and the private sector turned out to be the “real muscle” of the humanitarian response, with DOD support. “We were there to enable them to get to the point that they needed, to deliver … the critical aid that was needed, whether it was saving lives from rescue efforts or delivering water and food,” Keen reported last year to the Council on Foreign Relations.
Collectively, these entities donated an estimated $36.2 million in goods and services during the first three months of the response mission in Haiti, Samson reported. She mentioned just a few of the many examples. Several large transportation industry corporations, cruise lines and commercial airlines stepped up to transport and deliver donated goods.
When the Port-au-Prince airport became overloaded with incoming aid, these companies were able to divert their deliveries through the commercial routes they had established in the Dominican Republic and at other ports. Another private company sent technical assistance when communications went down at the Port-au-Prince air traffic control tower. The University of Miami provided Creole-speaking translators and a large soft drink company donated 2.8 million bottles of water.
In addition, NGOs that had been on the ground in Haiti for years stepped up to work with the interagency to support disaster response. “We had been working all along to bring in different partners to the headquarters,” Samson said. “But at the time of the disaster, when everybody had a shared focus and the same goal and interest, we all came together, and it was very easy to work alongside each other to see how we could help each other meet that mission set.”
That mission, she said, underscored the importance of relationship-building. “When there is a disaster, that is not a time to be changing business cards with your partners,” she said. “You need to be doing it way ahead of time.”
Samson and Martinez agreed that partnerships — interagency and civil sector alike — will be increasingly important as all face budget constraints. “In this time of dwindling resources, we have to be sure we are not all doing the same thing, and also that we are not stepping on each other’s toes and … getting in the way of the same effort,” Martinez said.
“We really have to look at how we leverage each other’s resources, and look at how we can do things more effectively and efficiently,” Samson added. “The groundwork that was laid before, during and after Operation Unified Response has paid dividends in NGO and private sector support to steady-state activities such as humanitarian civic assistance exercises and civil military operations. The most successful example of this deliberate collaboration in steady state is the annual Continuing Promise missions conducted by U.S. Naval Forces-South.”
“So when people ask me what we get out of working with the interagency and private sector, I always respond to them: ‘It is the expertise they carry, the resources they have and the access that they have in those partner nations that are beyond what we have at a combatant command that really helps us work in addressing our regional threats and challenges,’” she said.
Army Maj. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas and Tim Rieser talk with Haitians during a visit to the Ancient Militarie Aeroport in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, May 1, 2010. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Samantha Parks
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Louis M. Espinal, U.S. Southern Command, and Joint Task Force-Haiti command sergeant major, visits the 22nd and 24th Marine Expeditionary Units providing humanitarian relief to the Haitian people affected by the 2010, earthquake. U.S. Marine photo by Sgt. Richard Andrade
U.S. and Canadian service members, along with USAID and World Food Program representatives gather at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti to discuss hurricane relief efforts in Port-Au-Prince, Sept. 25, 2008. U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Ernest Scott