Brig. Gen. David Coffman, commander of Marine Corps Forces South, speaks to security cooperation training team graduates at the Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group's schoolhouse Dec. 13. (Staff Sgt. Vitaliy Rusavskiy/Marine Corps)
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JOINT EXPEDITIONARY BASE LITTLE CREEK-FORT STORY, Va. — Twenty Marines will deploy to Central America as the region’s new security cooperation team, the first active-duty team to work for an extended amount of time in the area.
The Marines graduated from the Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group’s schoolhouse here on Friday. The team comprises Marines from 17 units, with a variety of military occupational specialties, said Maj. Andrew Dirkes, who will serve as the officer-in-charge. They’ll be split into three smaller teams that will be placed in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize, he added.
Reserve units have deployed in recent years to the Caribbean and Central and South America, where they work with local militaries that are on the front lines of the drug wars. But this is the first time active-duty Marines, working out of Marine Corps Forces South, will conduct the mission, said Maj. Mike Alvarez, a spokesman for the command.
To prepare, Dirkes and his Marines attended a five-week Global Adviser Course here. It gave them not only the basics on advising other militaries, but also region-specific operational and cultural information about the countries to which they’re deploying, Dirkes said.
Capt. Joe Murphy, one of their trainers here, said the Marines learned cross-cultural communication as well as how to establish a close working relationship, one of the most vital skills for this type of mission.
“In order to be successful as an adviser and to train a foreign military force and meet our objectives, you need to first build rapport with your counterparts,” Murphy said. “... Once that rapport is built, they’re going to be more likely to want to conduct the training and strive to meet the standards that we want them to meet.”
Brig. Gen. David Coffman, MARFORSOUTH’s commander, spoke to the Marines before they graduated. He emphasized that their mission in U.S. Southern Command is one of partnership, and said Marines should view it as such. They must be willing to take take guidance and receive information from their foreign counterparts. It’s a two-way street, with give and take.
“What you don’t do is ... come in as the rich, smart American with all the answers,” Coffman said. “You train and learn together, so the number one thing is to come at it as partners, with eyes and ears open. It’s about engaging with partners to work on our common problems and to protect our common interests.”
Although the Marines will primarily work with local militaries in Guatemala, Honduras and Belize, they’ll also team with other partner nations in the region, such as Colombia, Dirkes said.
Marines will be well-positioned to learn skills that are strengths in those countries, including riverine and jungle training, he said. They can also hone skills, including leadership, that they can take back to their own units.
“I think coming from 17 different units is actually great because it allows that spread of information to go back to the Marine Corps in a variety of places, as opposed to just one unit,” Dirkes said.