Foreign Nation Advisement

RoosterJ

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#1
How many of you have worked with foreign military's in an adviser role?

I am finishing up a tour down in Africa where we worked for 6 months with the host nations military. I have to say, it has been a frustrating experience. They very rarely hold up their end of the agreement, are always late, and their officers are just frustrating to work with. The soldiers themselves are fine. Motivated and want to train. But its the hierarchy above them that creates so many issues.

If I had to pull one big take away from my time here to share with others who haven't worked with other military's, it would be to pound into your brain that they will operate at their own pace... and what you have going on will not be a priority to them... regardless of how much it helps them.

Overall, it has been a great experience and it has plenty of upsides. You learn a lot about yourself as a person and really develop your social skills to adapt to the different culture.

I would love to hear the stories of some of you other guys that have experienced the same thing.
 

Raksasa Kotor

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#2
I have over a decade of experience performing advisory operations across multiple AOR's, including Africa.

Every country is different, but - painting with a broad brush - what you describe typically happens when the advising unit fails to do two things:

1. Understanding and addressing the host nation's military and political hierarchy by identifying key players, establishing personal relationships and then leveraging those relationships appropriately to ensure that change is institutionalized and endures once the advising force departs.

2. Assessing host nation capabilities and suggesting changes that are feasible and sustainable within the local context and without continuous outside support. In other words, they are not "us" and never will be for a myriad of reasons, so don't expect them to do things "our way" - and don't look at that as a bad thing.

None of this happens fast, and it rarely happens at all when a unit that does not normally perform advisory operations is dropped in to conduct a one-off mission, or an episodic mission that returns with different faces every rotation.

The power of personal relationships and local context cannot be overstated - and it's something that we as Americans suck at recognizing, adapting to and weaponizing.
 

Ooh-Rah

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#3
Great thread....and rarely one of a topic that has not been recently posted before.
 

RoosterJ

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#4
I have over a decade of experience performing advisory operations across multiple AOR's, including Africa.

Every country is different, but - painting with a broad brush - what you describe typically happens when the advising unit fails to do two things:

1. Understanding and addressing the host nation's military and political hierarchy by identifying key players, establishing personal relationships and then leveraging those relationships appropriately to ensure that change is institutionalized and endures once the advising force departs.

2. Assessing host nation capabilities and suggesting changes that are feasible and sustainable within the local context and without continuous outside support. In other words, they are not "us" and never will be for a myriad of reasons, so don't expect them to do things "our way" - and don't look at that as a bad thing.

None of this happens fast, and it rarely happens at all when a unit that does not normally perform advisory operations is dropped in to conduct a one-off mission, or an episodic mission that returns with different faces every rotation.

The power of personal relationships and local context cannot be overstated - and it's something that we as Americans suck at recognizing, adapting to and weaponizing.
I think you hit the nail on the head. Coming into this mission, there was not a whole lot of context on what to expect with the host nation. My team consisted of Marines who did not have any background or training with working with host nations, myself included. We were fortunate enough to have sent 4 Marines to MCSG for their course, but that added to up a small percentile of my whole team.

The personal relationships are huge, as you stated. But with this country and many other in this region their military is a centralized command. The base commanders (generals) don't have the authority to make most of the decisions we need them to. They forward everything to their Joint Chief of Staff for approval. As you can imagine, that process is very slow and the responses sometimes are non-existent.

Assessing this country and their capabilities has been a great learning experience. Of note, it is not necessarily teaching them to do things our way. You are right, that will never work for them. But they are the recipient of a lot of our gear. So trying to assist them in training of the processes of just conducting operator level maintenance is a struggle. The soldiers grasp the concepts and are more than capable, but they often fall short in the tools/spare parts category. Funding for upkeep of those pieces of gear is non-existent.

I really appreciate your post and input. The power of personal relationships will win you a lot more battles in a place like this than any dick swinging contest!
 

RoosterJ

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#5
Great thread....and rarely one of a topic that has not been recently posted before.
Thanks, I imagined with the present company on this site that there would be others who had a lot more experience in this matter. It is one that is not highly publicized, but as @Raksasa Kotor stated, we for the most part suck at doing it. There is a huge amount of potential within these countries, if we can just help them reform processes such as communication to be more efficient.
 

Ocoka

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#6
Sir (@RoosterJ ),

My 12-man Combined Action unit advised and conducted joint-force combat operations with South Vietnamese Regional Force militia. This included pacification efforts, civic action, FID and COIN that required on our part an integration into rural Vietnamese village life.

Our AO comprised about 5 sq clicks and a few small, primitive hamlets. We lived in that AO 24/7. That in itself is important. Staying there.

@Raksasa Kotor summed it up. He's the long-term professional. I can only speak from a small-unit tactical level POV. Building rapport with your counterparts is essential, as has been stated... having patience, developing trust. Nurture the good leaders, the good NCOs. Often foreign troops are only as good as the men who lead them. We found that a good counterpart NCO or officer could make a world of difference.

Inevitably, it's going to be frustrating at some point, especially if you are working, like we did, with peasant soldiers. Resentments can build if they sense impatience and/or disrespect. Respect for their culture is essential.

I think most people, in spite of cultural and language differences, just want to be respected and treated with dignity. If they like you, they'll fight for you. If they like you, the more prone they'll be to provide intel that could save your life. Sometimes it's as simple as that. If they dislike you, if they start to resent a perceived superiority on your part, they can get sullen, uncooperative and if relations aren't rectified they'll turn on you...worst case scenario treachery or Green on Blue.

What you stated in your OP about them working at their own pace, not being where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there is pretty typical of what we experienced. In combat that can be lethal. Often, too, in Third World countries, there will be corruption/ineptitude up the chain that can have an impact on your life in the field. And your own command, up at Division/Corps level has to be supportive of what you're trying to accomplish in the field.

I've seen it work very well...and I've also seen it go south fast.
 
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Raksasa Kotor

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#7
There are a lot of fantastic take-aways from Ocoka's post, I'd just like to add my two cents and hopefully keep the conversation going; my comments are not addressed to anyone in particular:

We lived in that AO 24/7. That in itself is important. Staying there.
We typically work and live with our counterparts to the maximum extent possible. You will almost always be perceived as a "rich American" - showing your counterparts that you are willing to live as they do and eat what they eat is a massive rapport builder. That said, there are discussions that should never be overheard by your counterparts and that kind of proximity can make those discussions difficult to have - see next point:

Nurture the good leaders, the good NCOs. Often foreign troops are only as good as the men who lead them. We found that a good counterpart NCO or officer could make a world of difference.
This is key. Unfortunately, the strong NCO's and O's won't always be in the billets you need them to be in, so you'll have to game plan with your team how to work around the dead weight. I can't completely pull back the curtain here, but it's fairly easy to figure out what motivates people and then use that to either get them on track or marginalize them so you can get to the strong leaders - even better if it's "their" idea.

Inevitably, it's going to be frustrating at some point, especially if you are working, like we did, with peasant soldiers. Resentments can build if they sense impatience and/or disrespect. Respect for their culture is essential.
We as Americans are among the very few cultures that get right down to business upon meeting someone for the first time - force your self to sit back and figure out the local routine, and why things happen when they do. I guarantee it will drive you bat shit crazy - but you can't influence their battle rhythm if you don't know it. In some cultures, I've accomplished more by inserting small comments into seemingly inconsequential conversations over endless glasses of chai than I ever have by taking the direct route. Be patient.

I think most people, in spite of cultural and language differences, just want to be respected and treated with dignity. If they like you, they'll fight for you. If they like you, the more prone they'll be to provide intel that could save your life. Sometimes it's as simple as that. If they dislike you, if they start to resent a perceived superiority on your part, they can get sullen, uncooperative and if relations aren't rectified they'll turn on you...worst case scenario treachery or Green on Blue.
You can accomplish a hell of a lot by simply being a decent human being and treating your counterparts more like family than subordinates. It's impossible to read the minds of your counterparts, but some of them will inevitably perceive you as arrogant simply because you are an American in their country trying to advise them. Ask them to teach you about their culture. Never, ever assume that you are smarter than they are. Be self effacing, but not to the point of being seen a buffoon - you are still the expert. On first contact, I typically tell my counterparts that I am there so that we can learn from each other and maybe we'll have some ideas on how to improve things - that's a lot different from "I'm here to teach you how to..."
 

Ocoka

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#8
^^^


Great points.

When I comm with people who've been in an advisory/FID capacity it never ceases to amaze me how many parallels there are working with foreign counterparts in various countries. The enemy changes, the terrain, the gear, the local culture...but personal and operational interactions are often extremely similar. That's why what you've written is as applicable today in, say, Afghanistan/Iraq/Africa/Central America, as it was in Vietnam.

One of the problems we faced with our counterparts was a track record of American chauvinism in the theater, the tendency of conventional forces and their officers to treat attached host-country units as inferior. You and your team can bust your ass building trust over months with your counterparts and the local population only to see your efforts go off the rails because some nearby line unit slapped some locals around, trampled crops, killed some cows or whatever.

We also experienced resistance to our efforts up the chain at Big Army. Nothing direct, but it reverberated downhill. Our Group was solid, our parent unit III Marine Amphibious Force was solid, but Army leadership in Saigon looked at COIN as a sideshow. (Ironically, it was Army Special Forces that refined the doctrine to that war so successfully. The Marines adapted some of their doctrine from the Banana Wars). The point is, it helps if everybody's supportive all the way up.

Thank you for your professional input on this. You've fleshed out many of my own thoughts and given me a much broader view of things.
 
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Raksasa Kotor

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#9
One of the problems we faced with our counterparts was a track record of American chauvinism in the theater, the tendency of conventional forces and their officers to treat attached host-country units as inferior. You and your team can bust your ass building trust over months with your counterparts and the local population only to see your efforts go off the rails because some nearby line unit slapped some locals around, trampled crops, killed some cows or whatever.
I think this is probably as true today as it was during Vietnam. The DoD most likely does a better job of preparing units for ad-hoc advisory operations now than it did in the past, but the simple fact is...not everyone is cut out for this type of work. There have been multiple times that my organization has been asked to bring in a team to spend several weeks just rebuilding relationships after another unit has pulled an "ugly American".

We also experienced resistance to our efforts up the chain at Big Army. Nothing direct, but it reverberated downhill. Our Group was solid, our parent unit III Marine Amphibious Force was solid, but Army leadership in Saigon looked at COIN as a sideshow. (Ironically, it was Army Special Forces that refined the doctrine to that war so successfully. The Marines adapted some of their doctrine from the Banana Wars). The point is, it helps if everybody's supportive all the way up.
This is still a problem that ebbs and flows as top level leadership rotates in and out. In my time, at it's worst, a MAJCOM commander re-missioned the only unit (at the time) that performed aviation FID in the DoD, completely killing off that capability. The Senate Armed Services Committee caught wind of it and raised hell; the General retired shortly thereafter and the unit rebuilt itself.

The problem with FID/COIN (or the umbrella term of Security Force Assistance (SFA)) is that to higher headquarters, the mission doesn't often produce the "metrics" that they understand. To a HHQ that is driven by body counts, territory held, tonnage of cargo moved, etc...how do you quantify influence, access, interoperability with allied forces, etc? How do you underscore the importance of those those things to someone who has never done the mission?
 

RoosterJ

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#10
Sir (@RoosterJ ),

My 12-man Combined Action unit advised and conducted joint-force combat operations with South Vietnamese Regional Force militia. This included pacification efforts, civic action, FID and COIN that required on our part an integration into rural Vietnamese village life.

Our AO comprised about 5 sq clicks and a few small, primitive hamlets. We lived in that AO 24/7. That in itself is important. Staying there.

@Raksasa Kotor summed it up. He's the long-term professional. I can only speak from a small-unit tactical level POV. Building rapport with your counterparts is essential, as has been stated... having patience, developing trust. Nurture the good leaders, the good NCOs. Often foreign troops are only as good as the men who lead them. We found that a good counterpart NCO or officer could make a world of difference.

Inevitably, it's going to be frustrating at some point, especially if you are working, like we did, with peasant soldiers. Resentments can build if they sense impatience and/or disrespect. Respect for their culture is essential.

I think most people, in spite of cultural and language differences, just want to be respected and treated with dignity. If they like you, they'll fight for you. If they like you, the more prone they'll be to provide intel that could save your life. Sometimes it's as simple as that. If they dislike you, if they start to resent a perceived superiority on your part, they can get sullen, uncooperative and if relations aren't rectified they'll turn on you...worst case scenario treachery or Green on Blue.

What you stated in your OP about them working at their own pace, not being where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there is pretty typical of what we experienced. In combat that can be lethal. Often, too, in Third World countries, there will be corruption/ineptitude up the chain that can have an impact on your life in the field. And your own command, up at Division/Corps level has to be supportive of what you're trying to accomplish in the field.

I've seen it work very well...and I've also seen it go south fast.
It sounds like you had some very unique experiences! Thanks for sharing!

I think all the points you make about living with them, have a good NCO or Officer, and ditching the superiority complex that is found so often with us is pin point. There is nothing worse than when you are made to feel inferior or like you aren't being taken seriously. From what you wrote, it sounds like you could write a hell of an article over this stuff. It seems like those things would be obvious and common sense, but when you have never filled a role like this, those things don't jump to the forefront of the mind.
 

Ocoka

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#11
It sounds like you had some very unique experiences! Thanks for sharing!

I think all the points you make about living with them, have a good NCO or Officer, and ditching the superiority complex that is found so often with us is pin point. There is nothing worse than when you are made to feel inferior or like you aren't being taken seriously. From what you wrote, it sounds like you could write a hell of an article over this stuff. It seems like those things would be obvious and common sense, but when you have never filled a role like this, those things don't jump to the forefront of the mind.

Thanks. As @Raksasa Kotor has said FID or SFA has come along way since then. Commitment is also a key, here. Host nation soldiers/militia/security forces have to believe you're not unassing the AO in a few months. In Vietnam--and I believe in OIF and OEF also, at least to some degree--there were a number of different kinds of wars being fought by our forces instead of one cohesive operational strategy.

One of the points he makes is trying to sell the merits of SFA and COIN doctrine (and I don't mean to steer the conversation away from peacetime foreign advisement) to superiors who know little about it. Sometimes it seems to me these types of missions are only given ample support after Larry Lightbulb decisions are arrived at by civilians in Oval Office brainstorming sessions. "Hey, this isn't working, and that isn't working, maybe we should try something else." Changing strategy in mid-conflict.
 

RoosterJ

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#12
Thanks. As @Raksasa Kotor has said FID or SFA has come along way since then. Commitment is also a key, here. Host nation soldiers/militia/security forces have to believe you're not unassing the AO in a few months. In Vietnam--and I believe in OIF and OEF also, at least to some degree--there were a number of different kinds of wars being fought by our forces instead of one cohesive operational strategy.

One of the points he makes is trying to sell the merits of SFA and COIN doctrine (and I don't mean to steer the conversation away from peacetime foreign advisement) to superiors who know little about it. Sometimes it seems to me these types of missions are only given ample support after Larry Lightbulb decisions are arrived at by civilians in Oval Office brainstorming sessions. "Hey, this isn't working, and that isn't working, maybe we should try something else." Changing strategy in mid-conflict.
In the current state of the military, we are going to continue to be limited by the "light-bulb decisions" made by politicians. Now, this is just my personal opinion, but it seems like since the landscape in the U.S is so tumultuous right now, any politician who wants to garner votes/attention will catapult off of anything they can. In particular, they love to make decisions that effect how we conduct our business, ignoring the advice of people who have been on the ground and seen what needs to be done. Again, just my two cents.
 
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#13
I'd like to thank everybody providing their experiences; it's a great breadth of real world knowledge.

Do we have any forum members who are with a SFAB? It'd be very interesting to see how experiences with a SFAB compare to the examples given in this thread, given the (seemingly) overall negativity I saw regarding SFABs when they were created.
 
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