SEOUL — “One of the key elements of success both now and in the future is relationships,” said Lt. Col. James Smith. “It’s not just about relationships. It’s all about relationships.”
In the modern world, where someone in Korea can video chat with someone in the United States from their mobile phone as if they were in the next room, this statement may be more true now than ever. Relationships drive nearly everything a nation does economically, diplomatically, and militarily whether on an international or personal level, or any of the other levels in between. And the U.S. can’t wait for a crisis to build relationships with its partners. This is one of the driving reasons U.S. Army Pacific created the Regional Leader Development Program, a course for mid-grade leaders, both officer and enlisted, to learn how to thrive in the complexity and ambiguity of the Indo-Pacific region.
“What this is intended to do is show you that those healthy relationships that you build between platoons or companies or battalions result in a better outcome for the military,” said Smith, the Leader Development Chief for USARPAC G3 Training. “But then we take it a step further. It’s the same concept by integrating with other joint teammates, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the Navy, because the way we’re going to operate both now and in the future is a joint environment. And then you take it one step further and you also introduce them to other mid-grade leaders from our foreign partners and allies across the Indo-Pacific, and what better way to build on those relationships than being able to meet or run into those same joint and foreign teammates down the road.”
The first RLDP class of 2019, made up of leaders from U.S. Forces Korea, U.S. Army Japan, 8th Army, 2nd Infantry Division, 7th Air Force, USARPAC, the Republic of Korea Army, and other Indo-Pacific units, also integrated with the Department of the Army Dense Urban Studies program to explore what it might be like to operate in a megacity, a large city typically with a population of 10 million or more.
“If you look at megacities and you look at operating in megacities, no doctrine exists right now,” said Cpt. Trevor Gingrich, an operations officer with the USARPAC G33 Current Operations Cell. “We’re on the cutting edge of a new future of war. We are junior leaders who have direct influence on Soldiers at every single position, but we are at a great point in our career where we also have influence at the strategic level as well.”
This RLDP-DUS course took place over three weeks. The first two weeks, March 24 -April 5, were spent in New York City building relationships with and studying operations of civilian organizations like the New York City Fire Department, the New York City Police Department, the Department of Health, and others.
“One thing that we need to do better in the Army is reach out to our local authorities and tap into their knowledge they have in their environment,” said Gingrich. “The Army right now, we live in the middle of nowhere. We don’t live in cities. If you want to understand the perspective of a city, talk to the people who live in the city.”
The final week was spent in Seoul from April 7 – 13. Seoul was specifically chosen because of the already strong relationship that exists between the U.S. and the Republic of Korea.
“Our partners and allies are really the key to success to security, stability and freedom throughout the Indo-Pacific,” said Smith. “It’s not just us. It’s being able to work side-by-side with all of our great teammates throughout the region. And it also helps us to understand their challenges through their lens. So this program allows us to see different complex situations that they have to deal with on a daily basis, gain an appreciation for that, and then take that back to how we can assist and support those outcomes that support a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The students visited the Seoul Emergency Operations Center, the Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Operations Center, the Korea Gas Corporation, and several other agencies, some of which had never before been seen by Americans.
“It’s extremely important that junior, mid-level leaders understand the consequences of operating in a megacity, and what consequences your actions have on individuals within the military and also the populace that you’re working in,” said Gingrich.
“Seoul is actually a lot more connected and a lot more prepared than I thought,” said Master Sgt. Matthew Poluyanskis, an operations NCO with the 130th Engineer Brigade, 8th Theater Sustainment Command. “They built this city essentially prepared for war and they have every contingency in mind with basically everything that they do.”
During their time in Seoul, the RLDP-DUS students still took time for that all important relationship building.
“The only way we’re going to build relationships is meeting the people, shaking the hands, and understanding that there is trust across the board,” said Gingrich. “That is of the utmost importance for the Army in the future.”
After the students were immersed in these megacities for three weeks learning and building relationships, Smith said he wanted to make sure they walked away from their RLDP-DUS time with three things.
“Number one, through the understanding of the environment, they can go back and provide their commanders with better options. Then, two, when they’re in positions of greater responsibility or positions of command or authority, they provide their units with better decisions. Then finally, it’s relationships, relationships, relationships.”