Story and Photo by Sgt. Brian Calhoun
Bogota, Colombia—Senior leaders with the South Carolina National Guard traveled to Colombia to attend the Colombian Army Transformation Symposium Aug. 5-8, 2016 to speak on the advantages of having a reserve force and the challenges of developing a robust reserve component.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr., adjutant general for South Carolina, discussed the leadership and operational development between the Colombian military and their relationship with the local community.
“While the military preserves the rights of the people, the strength of a democracy is always at the will of the people,” said Livingston. “Above all, we must remember this important fact. We may have the strongest military in the world but if we do not have the support of our people, then we cannot survive. That support comes from our citizens understanding the situation, to include the threat and the solution, and being connected with our military intellectually and emotionally.”
In 2012 Colombia developed and implemented “The Sword of Honor Campaign,” which has led to the signing of an agreement that promises a final peace treaty with The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a guerrilla movement involved in the continuing Colombian armed conflict since 1964.
With the signing of the treaty the Colombian military will transition from a wartime to a peacetime force and is considering the development of a readied reserve force.
“As the peace process begins, your call to action and fight will be reduced. However, natural disasters, external threats and even the possibility of internal threat will continue to exist. Since your day-to-day role is reduced, you may struggle to remain relevant. The key component to relevancy is that the population has to see the benefits of a strong military and how it is integrated in communities and safeguards the homeland,” said Livingston.
“You may choose to strengthen your reserve forces and reduce your active forces. If you do, I encourage you to structure your reserve forces to be a maximum advantage of your country. It must be a capable fighting force,” added Livingston. “The professionalism in the ranks cannot change from active duty to reserve. Our reserve forces are held to the same standards as our active forces with the same equipment. We are completely interchangeable in war.”
Livingston explained that with a reserve force it creates a tie between the community and the military. A reserve Soldier brings skills from his civilian career that contributes a unique value to their military job, as well as the military training and leadership skills benefiting their civilian employer.
“We have found that when you demonstrate to the Soldier the value of staying in the reserves and sharing how that translates to employers, it is a win for everyone,” said Livingston. “Our challenge as leaders is ensuring employers and reserve members see these benefits.”
The South Carolina National Guard is available to assist the Colombian military during this transitional time due to the State Partnership Program (SPP). The South Carolina National Guard’s SPP with the Republic of Colombia began in 2012, and has conducted more than 50 engagements this year that has included topics of law, disaster response and maintenance programs.
The SPP’s goal reflects an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard to interact with both the active and reserve forces of foreign nations, inter-agency partners and international non-governmental organizations, emphasizing the National Guard’s unique state and federal characteristics.
U.S. Army Lt. Col. David King, SPP director, explained the partnership has been mutually beneficial for both organizations over the years. The groups have learned and shared ideas and best practices through exchange visits between the partnered nations, both in the state of South Carolina and in Colombia. He added that the goal is for the program to continue to expand.
“The purpose of the program is to look at different techniques and training methods we use here in the United States that they can adopt in Colombia and to talk about what they do in Colombia to see if it is applicable here,” said King. “Previously our engagements have been military-to-military; however, this year we are looking to move to military-to-civilian collaborations.”
These collaborations will be more important than ever as the Colombian military looks to transition to a reserve force made up of citizen-soldiers.
“The reserve is how you keep contact with the population,” King said. “You get the advantage of the military discipline and the experience that the people have…Once they leave the active military, they will be great civilian employees.”
With the potential of creating a reserve force, it keeps a trained military capability at a fraction of the cost of an active component. The reserve force will be ready to respond to national disaster and peace-keeping missions, while also continuing to be members of the local communities.
“A reserve force not only provides a strong military capability at a quarter of the price of active forces, but we have structured it to maintain a tie with our citizens, provide assistance in disasters, maintain partnerships with other militaries and fight our nation’s war with a short train up time,” said Livingston. “A reserve force lives and works in all of our communities, creating a lasting bond. Allowing this reserve to be responsive to local needs and priorities will strengthen already existing trust and partnerships.”