HONOLULU – Gema Bhakti 2020, a military planning exercise involving U.S. and Indonesian militaries under the National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP), was held via videoconference this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The SPP is a joint Department of Defense security cooperation program, managed by the National Guard Bureau, executed and coordinated by the geographic combatant commands. The Hawaii National Guard (HING) has been SPP partners with Indonesia since 2006.
Instead of gathering in one location for GB20, briefings and breakout sessions were held in the continental United States, Hawaii and Indonesia the last week in August. In the exercise, participants shared presentations and other documents securely and used videoconferences to plan how to respond to a simulated humanitarian disaster during a global pandemic.
“This year, one of our biggest challenges was being proficient in Teams,” said Lt. Col. Brandon Torres, Hawaii National Guard Joint Staff. “In the beginning, we were trying to be collaborative in a system where not everyone can see the same document. We were editing and revising documents over email. We had a better technology, and by the end of the exercise, we were using it.”
The real-world pandemic response kept many people from participating in GB20. Travel to either country was also not an option due to the transpacific travel moratorium and quarantine restrictions.
“Because of COVID, we had to drastically reduce our footprint, and we utilized our HING joint staff,” said Torres. “We only had 10 staff members participating. They were released from their duty day (HING’s response to COVID) to drive to an alternate location to participate in the virtual exercise from 1400 to 1900.”
This year’s Gema Bhakti was different, just like everything else in 2020. However, the partnership between the U.S Military and the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) military is stronger because the exercise still happened. The relationships established in all the previous Gema Bhakti exercises and all the subject matter expert exchanges paved the road for this iteration’s virtual battlefield.
“We did lose some of the interaction because of the situation,” said Torres. “In-person discussions and interactions would be preferred, but we did our best under the circumstances and still reaped the benefits of conducting the exercise.”