Military exchange program benefits U.S., Canadian, Mexican military forces

By Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Torres | U.S. Army North Public Affairs | July 15, 2010

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –A program established in 1945 has provided U.S. military personnel an opportunity to exchange places with Canadian and Mexican military officers in an effort to strengthen alliance and build coalition partnerships with the surrounding nations of the North American Continent.

U.S. Army North currently has 18 Soldiers serving in the Military Personnel Exchange Program in Canada and two in Mexico.

“Canada and Mexico are some of our closest allies in continental defense and the Global War on Terror,” said David Morrison, MPEP coordinator, U.S. Army North. “We share a 5,500-mile border with Canada and a 1,969-mile border with Mexico. Our countries are closely linked socially, culturally and economically.”

The program, which is part of the Army Chief of Staff’s Security Cooperation Plan, has been used as a valuable tool to train and develop officers from different countries to support and assist Army North.

Having exchange officers interact with the Canadian and Mexican commands further enhances the culture of bi-national operations and mutual understanding and respect, said Morrison.

Cultural and institutional interaction, he explained, is perhaps no more direct than actually mentoring Canadian soldiers in a class room environment. This helps to enhance their military education on operations in joint, interagency, multinational and public environments.

“This program has allowed me to develop an in-depth understanding of how to work in an international, joint environment at the operational level,” said Lt. Col. Jefferey Fritz, Army North, who serves as a directing staff officer at the Canadian Force College, Toronto, Canada. “It also has broadened my understanding of the geopolitical forces that shape military strategies and helps me solve complex issues.”

Fritz recently returned from a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he served as an operations officer in the Division Operations Center at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, which is located near Tikrit, Iraq.

Fritz is providing a valued service to not only his own country but to Canada, the bordering nation to the north, by providing in depth knowledge of issues in the curriculum such as Leadership and Command Theory, Ethics, War and Society, Operational Functions, Operational Art and Planning, Component Capabilities, Advanced Joint Operational Planning, and Domestic Operations to name a few.

“In reality, directing staff officers is a combination of coach, mentor, leader, facilitator, assessor, teacher and guide,” said Fritz. “It’s our job to ensure we create an environment within which students can grow intellectually and professionally to match their maximum potential.”

Not only are exchange officers authorized to teach, they also have positions in command.

Col. Robert Wade serves as the commander of the Information Activities Task Force, a force comprised of 26 Canadian Army personnel and civilian staff members. The IATF is the principle advisor to the commander of the Land Force Doctrine and Training System. He has served in command since July 2009 per directive of the Canadian Department of National Defense and the Canadian Land Forces. He has worked with the U.S. Army to create a position to oversee assignments, manage deployments, handle recruiting, selection and retention as well as work to develop and institute doctrine and professional development.

“It’s very beneficial to the United States because it allows us to have insight and share information with Canada on our approach to civil military cooperation and psychological operations,” said Wade. “This has been a truly rewarding and professionally challenging opportunity. It forces me to keep current on both U.S. and Canadian doctrine while also serving as an ambassador for the U.S. Army to the Canadian Army.”

The officers who serve as part of Army North’s exchange program – be they from the United States, Canada or Mexico – bring with them a multitude of valued experiences. Their participation further enhances the strong bonds of the nations in their mutual interests in providing for the security of their nations.

“It has provided a great window to observe and participate in Canadian culture and thought processes,” said Wade. “All in all, a remarkable opportunity that I am truly grateful for.”