Tips on how to execute a proponent’s exercise in your country

Cutlass Express 2013

Numerous types of exercises may be conducted in your country. From Naval to Special Forces to Medical – all of them come from different components and different funding sources. This blog will outline some of the things an OSC should know about exercises as it is being proposed; the process through which exercises are conducted; some of the pitfalls that may lay ahead that can be avoided; and give some advice on what your role is in the process.

First of all, exercises are themselves an act of planning. For a five to ten-day event you will spend up to 15 to 20 actual days planning the exercise. This does not include the numerous emails, phone calls, and briefs to higher headquarters to confirm the exercise is on track. Usually, most exercises will follow the following schedule:

1. Combatant Command decides which countries they would like to have an exercise in (two to three years out)
2. Combatant Command delivers a request to the host nation in writing
3. Combatant Command assigns the exercise to an implementing proponent
4. Proponent conducts planning conferences:
a. Concept Development Event (CDE) – 9 to 10 months out
b. Initial Planning Event (IPE) – 7 to 8 months out
c. Main Planning Event (MPE) – 4 to 5 months out
d. Final Planning Event (FPE) – 1 to 2 months out
5. Exercise is executed – 1 to 2 weeks long

You can expect to either host or participate in all the proponents, and State Partnership Program funded exercises in your region. Talk to each of your proponent’s desk officers to understand the upcoming exercises in your region – or just google it. Your level as an OSC will either be the host or will support it by inviting your partner nation to participate in it. I suggest going to one of the planning events for the exercise, if not in your country, to gain a broader understanding of the exercise process. You could perhaps guide how your partner nation participates, spend some time getting to know the partner nation planner, and lastly take some time to spend with the OSC there and learn some of their best practices.

What are the types of exercises and how are they funded?


Naval exercises are organized regionally in Africa: East Africa/West Indian Ocean, Gulf of Guinea, and Northeast. Compared to exercises you do with other components, there will be a large number of civil service personnel from the host nation invited to participate, to include members of the Maritime Authority, Maritime Police, and Fisheries. The component can fund their travel unless a unique circumstance exists. For example, if a member is not a citizen of an African country, or has a passport which has policy implications for the United States.

All of these exercises have a three-day Senior Leadership Symposium component. A unique aspect of these exercises is that while the main event may be run from a central location or hub, there are often workshops throughout several countries and the ship movements occur in the territorial waters of multiple states. This is important because even if your country isn’t hosting the event, you as the AFRICA OSC may have a role to play in a supporting/coordinating a smaller workshop with your partner nations.

If you start planning early enough, these exercises are an excellent opportunity to get a local or international journalist embedded on a ship, or at the headquarters. You can build and develop your relationship with the embassy PD officer by seeking them out and seeing if they have local contacts that might be interested in covering the event. They likely haven’t been exposed to the forward leaning U.S. military public affairs system and will be excited to include the exercise.

Many African militaries have a very underdeveloped public affairs office. The exercise provides the host nation’s military an excellent opportunity to partner with the component’s public affairs office, as they have a two to four-day media strategy/strategic messaging workshop planned as part of the exercise specifically for military/government public affairs officers. This is also an excellent opportunity for your embassy’s PD to link up with local media and cover the event in the press-so not only will partner nations’ own public affairs officers write articles or interview Key Leaders, but the local civilian press can also be engaged.

If your country’s Navy/Coast Guard is as underfunded as most in Africa, there’s a good chance that their head of Navy will pull you aside and tell you that they want to participate, but they don’t have the funds to pay for the fuel. There’s a good chance that they are telling the truth since the exercise either was not budgeted for or is not on the radar of the Ministry of Defense leader’s program (particularly in the maritime domain). The good news is that if you plan ahead, the component will be able to find funding to pay for the fuel needed. Defense Logistics Agency requires a 120-day lead time to contract the fuel, so your host nation must provide the component contractor with their requirements for fuel by the Main Planning Event.

If your country is hosting you will usually know well ahead of time so you can and should start working with your applicable component desk officer to line up naval reservist support. Generally speaking, U.S. Navy reservist support is organized under the Maritime Partnership Program (MPP) – think of it as a National Guard for the Navy. All of these reservists, both officers and enlisted, need to get their “two weeks a year” and exercise support is right up their alley. The other ways you can use these reservists are in conjunction with planning in the year(s) before hosting an exercise.

Previous OSC insight: “In Country X, we used successive waves of reservist teams to conduct site surveys of the various Country X naval detachments/bases. We were able to work with the MPP to request the right mix of expertise: i.e., a diesel mechanic, a navigation expert, etc. They conducted “side by side workshops” (you can’t call it training) to help professionalize the Country X navy. One of the detachments was also able to conduct an initial site survey of the main base’s old pier side area and main headquarters/operations building. This led to us getting a team of SEABEES to come down and conduct an official survey by which we were able to put together a proposal for Exercise Related Construction (ERC). Like most things in Africa (and in FMS/SC), these things take time. I put together the ERC proposal sometime in late 20XX I think, left Country X a year later, and they recently received approval for the construction to be done in 20XX (+4 years).”

Also, the component conducts an operation as part of the African Maritime Law Enforcement Program (AMLEP). This is a five-phase operation that starts out as a review of the host nation’s maritime laws and culminates in an operation that focuses on counter illicit trafficking, to include Illegal, Underreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Many of the same planning requirements for the component’s exercises will apply to this operation. You should have a five-year notice of when your country will be invited to participate in the operation as the combatant command plans this operation up to five years ahead.

Army and Special Forces Exercises:


The United States Army executes medical exercises under the Humanitarian Civil Action program. These exercises bring U.S. Army Reserve medical officers to your partner nation’s country where they perform surgeries alongside your partner nation. Previously, this was used in similar but different ways. For example, in 2003 USEUCOM executed the following programs under the Title 10 US Code 401:

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 8.05.45 PM

This exercise highlights something that initially is amazing – 15,014 patients seen and affected through the U.S. military in two countries, sixteen cities, and in only eight days! That’s a win in my box, much like the USS MERCY arriving at the port. However, over the years, more and more we have found that these previous types of exercises might have created as many problems as they solved. Another example was something I experienced in IRT.

A US Army medical team came into town and conducted over 2000 cataract surgeries in ten days. It was literally a surgery mill. It was a great engagement opportunity, and a lot of people were assisted. However, the local eye doctor was not happy and actually lodged a complaint against the embassy. We should have included him in things. Also, a few, less than 1%, of the patients had problems with the surgeries that were not able to be solved unless they paid more money to a surgeon in the capital city. Had we included the eye doctor in things, maybe this would not have been an issue. The balance of those assisted verse those with problems is always a risk when dealing with a human population.

Currently, the focus of our MEDRETE or Medical Readiness Exercises is on helping the population while serving alongside the resident medical physicians. The focus of an HCA exercise is mostly on improving and sustaining the skills of the US Army medical personnel, and the other 49% is on helping the host nation population and physicians. I think this is the right mix of for this program. These are Title 10 funds, and the money is sold on increasing the readiness of the U.S. medical doctors participating. Don’t forget that, and don’t forget your role in providing readiness for our military members.

Other Army and Special Forces exercises. The Army conducts its exercises regionally like the Navy but tailors each exercise to adapt to the specific issue for each region. The Special Forces exercise is typically conducted across several countries at the same time. Contact your desk officer for more specifics on the exercises held in your region by these two components.

Potential issues an OSC will have to navigate

The significant promise: There are different sizes of an exercise. In Africa, these exercises are relatively small in comparison to the annual exercises our forces have been doing with other allies in Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea, etc. Those exercises are oriented to some extent around exercising interoperability, conducting a show of force, etc. In Africa most likely you will execute a Command Post Exercise (CPX), a staff planning exercise (STAFFEX), a live fire exchange (LFEX), or a combination of all – dependent on the funding available. Sometimes the partner nation has greater ideas of what they want the exercise to be than what the proponent has the budget for. Other times the proponent may have grand ideas of what it wants to do, only for the units and personnel to not be available to execute it.

Current OSC Insight: “My overall impression is that the country team and the partner nation, to some extent, was continuously let down in our expectations of what the exercise would be in size, concept, etc. Unfortunately, I think the two biggest culprits were a personality based issue and institutional problems. I say it was personality based partially because the lead planner probably didn’t have as much skin in the game as we (the country team and partner nation) did, or perhaps our expectations were too high, to begin with. Although there is one lead planner for the exercise, Exercise X was not the only exercise or event that he was working on. I think it was an institutional problem because “Big Army” has challenges when it comes to resourcing personnel for events, whether large or small. Some say this is because Africa is not a priority for the Army, some say participating in Security Cooperation events affects the Army units’ readiness, and of course, there is the bureaucratic process to request for forces (RFF) is 9-12 months, if everything runs smoothly.”

You will mainly find these issues with the Army exercises as the Navy, Air Force, and Special Forces exercises are pretty much “canned” and thus have been adequately funded and resourced with forces beforehand. However, sometimes their exercises are not amenable to what the partner nation may want or need exactly, whereas the other proponent’s exercise can be adjusted. With adjusting things from the initial intent, you risk not executing what was agreed upon. It’s almost a catch 22, and you are the one who will deliver the messages of any changes. Your role here is to understand the partner nations capabilities, the personalities of its leaders, and think about any cultural issues that any changes might create or cause problems with. No matter what don’t get a case of Stockholm syndrome here and burn any bridges with the proponent.

Current OSC insight: “The idea was initially sold that the exercise would be a multilateral Command Post Exercise and a bilateral Field Training Exercise (FTX), to include live fire. The component command was really excited about the FTX having discussed it at the CDE and the IPE with the partner nation, adding that the United States wanted to provide a company-sized element for the live fire. Only at the MPE did it come out that there would be no live fire and the FTX would need to be drastically scaled down, but perhaps they could try and source personnel to run a few counter-IED Lanes. The partner nation accepted this but was frustrated, but they had already been let down by the U.S. in regards to exercise before and perhaps were not surprised by it.”

Exercise-Related Construction (ERC): “A mon avis” this is the most underutilized authority on the continent, and there is a good reason why. This authority allows exercise planners to construct and/or improve facilities that directly will be utilized during the exercise. Build a live fire range, improve a command post, etc. The issue comes that it requires at a minimum three years to plan and construct the requirement. It is also capped at around $300k, which is not enough usually to do much in Africa. However, sometimes less is more. I’ve seen attempts to build live-fire ranges in Africa that are similar to ones at U.S. Army posts – think moving tank targets. This program is a fantastic authority, but often our proponent planners over think the requirement, and can’t see the long-term effect of a MOUT house, etc. They won’t want to do it – but I suggest you make a request for it. Unfortunately, our planner’s aren’t there yet in their abilities to maximize this authority. It is better to have an SF planner think of things to do than an Army planner. Their perspectives will be different.

Change of venue: Policy issues. Every now and then you will, unfortunately, have to deal with a policy issue that may affect an exercise that is being planned in your country. How do you tell the partner nation that the U.S. government has decided not to do it anymore and/or is moving it to another regional country? Everyone more than likely will know the reason why this has been determined. Do you still include the partner nation in the exercise in another partner nation? There’s a fantastic amount of saving face that will need to be properly thought through. Perhaps the exercise is just canceled. Imagine that this happened three years ago before your predecessor and you and he didn’t know. Think about the reaction of the partner nation when they receive an invite to host an exercise four years after the same exercise being canceled.

Current OSC Insight: “Country X was not supposed to host Exercise XXXX 18 originally, but there was a last minute change after another country had to cancel hosting, which already put the timeline in a short planning timeline. I believe it was in XXX or XXX 20XX that Country X confirmed they would host, and execution was originally supposed to be in XXX 20XX. Luckily, the XXX date was later pushed to XXX 20XX because another exercise had to be bumped to an earlier execution date because of ongoing elections.”

What does your partner nation get out of this exercise? What does the United States? Think about this question and then research into the assets and money your partner nation contributes subliminally to host or participate in an American exercise. We often think that we are paying for everything, but more often than not there is a cost to the partner nation that we do not know about. Try to understand that cost. They’ve been doing this now for about twenty years, I’d love to hear what they actually say about our exercises. Maybe they are from a Francophone or Lusophone country – and most exercises do not provide interpreters. After a while, you will notice that the same IMET DLI trained personnel are going to the exercises solely based upon their abilities to speak English, not based on their current duty status or position. As an AFRICA OSC, you should be thinking “What does this exercise accomplish for them?” Then you should ask “What does this exercise accomplish for the United States?” That’s your job, and your insight into the exercise planners is like gold in the pan. If you don’t provide translation and put that on the invite, then you aren’t going to get the right people for the exercise.

The three-week notification. Eventually, you will have to deal with the exercise planner who cannot, for whatever reason, get an initiation out before two or three months. There is no excuse for this no matter what they tell you. Sometimes they are waiting on the exact dates and times, other times they may be waiting on your desk officer to answer their email verifying the precise spelling of your Chief of Defense’s name. Make sure you accurately inform your component desk officer of the time it takes for an invitation to get from your office to the Chief of Defense and back. More often than not it is at least three weeks if not a month. Unfortunately, you do not have the option of telling the component no here. You’ll have to use some grease to get things moved along.

Helpful tips to host a successful exercise

1) Do some research first – how many times has this exercise been executed in your country? Who was the lead planner and who from your country attended? Talk to your LES, and they will be able to pull all this up.
2) Make the proponent planners and contractors do everything – don’t let this become a burden on your OSC budget/training manager. The proponents have contractors and can adequately contract everything. Take the time during the FPE to walk through all the contracts with the proponent planner. Have your OSC NCOIC and LES in on the conversation and make sure everything is squared away. The last thing you want to do is jump through hoops during the exercise.
3) Think about the Senior Leader who is coming in. Talk to your SDO/DATT and think about what you want to accomplish with their visit. What host nation officials do you want them to meet with? Use them to push your SC objectives. Start pushing out staff products earlier rather than later to your proponent desk officer.
4) Don’t let the proponent members go directly to members of the U.S. Embassy team until after direct introductions have been made. Ensure you are cc’d on all communication between the embassy GSO, PD, FMO, etc. who may be communicating with the component planner. Ensure no one commits to something they aren’t / can’t execute for the component.
5) Ask for additional help – is their an IRTer who could come in for a week and assist with the exercise? Designate the proponent desk officer as the exercise LNO to the embassy and make that person work through any significant issues that are going on.
6) Prepare your Ambassador for interaction with the partner nation and the exercise’s Senior Leaders.
7) Talk to your contacts at the other embassies in the country. At the component level for maritime exercises, the component is working with other non-African Navies to coordinate international participation, but that doesn’t always mean that there’s seamless communication to the French embassy (for example) in your country. Build these partners into the planning process, and you have the chance to amplify your strategic messaging. For example, if your country doesn’t currently value/understand maritime security or maritime domain awareness, that’s a whole of government issue. Think of the message it would send to have not only the U.S. Ambassador talking about the exercise but also the British, French and Swedish one. This doesn’t happen if you don’t bring in those counterparts early (hint: they may not always be military).
8) Finish STRONG! Don’t neglect the debrief. Set a date to meet with the host nation to go over the good, the bad and the ugly early on. Block some time on your schedule ahead of time to write up a good After-Action Report. Don’t just share that with the component command, but push it out to your fellow OSCs.

Areas where you can go wrong

You will need to work during the exercise on other things. Your ability to manage a balance of the exercise and the work required at the embassy is vital. It may be even further compounded by a distance if the exercise is conducted in a different city. Make sure you watch your email communication during this time. Keep in mind that the exercise planners have done this in multiple other countries and with many other OSCs. One quick off the cuff remark could cause a negative response. If there is an issue going on think about all the problems of the situation, then lay them out and talk to your SDO first about the issue. Two points of perspective are always better than one. Don’t become a micromanager between communications of the component planner and the partner nation planner, but do insist on being cc’d on all emails.

Current OSC Insight: “Support from the embassy – understanding that everyone has a busy job and one never has enough time to focus solely on one task or project, the OSC would get last minute requests from the planners that took up much valued time from our regular duties. This included support with visa invite memos, hotel and driver coordination, last minute requests to the partner nation, and even requesting contract support from the embassy with short notice.”

Lastly, it is not about you, but make sure everyone knows you did a good job!

A little self-promotion is never bad during an exercise. Make sure you are always seen as the main interlocutor between the host nation and the proponent. Ensure their PAO is linked in with the embassy PD office. Don’t be afraid to host a dinner at your house or the SDO’s with just the central exercise staff (funding might be an issue with this). Lastly, what you want to be said at the beginning, during, and after the exercise is: MAJ / LCDR so and so was absolutely excellent. Don’t burn your evaluation – but be careful of exercise staff members and their interactions with the host nation. Both have different perspectives which can cause some mishaps culturally.

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