KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Members of the Washington National Guard recently traveled to Malaysia to participate in two major U.S. Indo-Pacom exercises with their Malaysian counterparts. Exercise Bersama Warrior is a joint bilateral command post exercise, and Exercise Keris Strike is a series of subject matter expert exchanges (SMEE) in a variety of crisis-related topics such as military police operations, civil affairs training and chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) operations.
These exercises are designed to build and strengthen our relationship while also supporting security interests of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
“At the end of the day, we all have a common goal – a peaceful and stable Pacific region,” said Brig. Gen. Jeremy Horn, commander of the Washington Air National Guard. “Our cooperation here and our efforts here and our lessons here, have been a small but significant contribution to that peaceful Pacific.”
This year the Washington National Guard played a significant role in the two exercises because of its newly minted partnership with Malaysia in 2017 under the National Guard Bureau-administered State Partnership Program.
Under the program, a state’s National Guard is linked to the armed forces of its partner nation in a mutually beneficial relationship with the goal of enhancing capabilities and security cooperation.
Because of this enduring relationship with Malaysia, the Washington National Guard was selected to be heavily involved in the exercise. This is Washington’s second partner nation since 2002, when it began a partnership with Malaysia’s neighbor, Thailand.
Thanh Wallace, an exercise planner with U.S. Army Pacific Command, said that Washington was selected to play a significant role with the two exercises for a couple of reasons. One – Washington is state partners under SPP, and two – the National Guard brings many skilled people to the exercises due to its dual status as citizens as well as service members. They bring their skills and knowledge from their regular full-time jobs to topic-heavy exercises like Keris Strike.
For example, at the Special Operations Forces (SOF) SMEE, the U.S. SOF representative was also a police officer in his civilian career, which brought a whole other skill set to the exchange.
“Which benefits us because they are two separate things,” Thanh said. “Because as a Washington resident, he wears both hats.”
The Keris Strike SMEEs are specifically designed to develop the capacity of both countries to quickly respond to a crisis with a greater collective knowledge and understanding of each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures so that when an incident happens, we can respond with an increased unity of effort.
“You build that relationship – that bond, and it just builds,” Thanh said. “God forbid if something should ever break out – a crisis – it won’t be the first time we ever worked together. We’ve done it before and we understand each other’s ways.”
A few miles away, at the Malaysian Ministry of Defence in Kuala Lumpur, the command post exercise Bersama Warrior was unfolding in a computer simulation program. Bersama means “together” in Malay.
Command post exercises like Bersama Warrior are designed to strengthen the relationship between the host nation’s armed forces and the U.S. by combining them into a single staff and forcing them to work through a complex problem collectively, thus increasing interoperability and their ability to plan and conduct joint and coalition operations.
James Reilly from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that the Washington National Guard was the primary recipient of training at Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand last year and “as the state of Washington expands and enhances its relationship with both Malaysia and Thailand, these exercises do two things – they facilitate that relationship and enhance and strengthen the State Partnership Program that you have, while also fulfilling U.S. Indo-Pacom’s theater security cooperation engagement plan.”
In the fictitious Bersama Warrior scenario, the United Nations Security Council resolution authorized peace enforcement operations on the fictional Seal Island. The task force in charge of the response had two missions – restoring the border between two conflicting nations and dealing with the separation of people because a minority population was being persecuted.
The Washington National Guard, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines along with members of the Malaysian Armed Forces provided the human resources to work through the problem together. But throwing two countries together with such a complex scenario, they are bound to run into difficulties right from the start. For most it was communication.
“As usual in the initial stages, we had a little bit of a problem of how to synchronize,” said Lt. Col. Mohd Faizor, the exercise deputy chief of staff. Outside of the exercise, he is assigned as a staff officer for Headquarters, 4th Malaysian Infantry Division. “We had to work out our dialect of speaking, especially in the English language. So initially we had a problem of how to communicate. But after day two we had no more problems.”
Bersama Warrior gave the exercise participants many opportunities to grow together, said Royal Malaysian Navy First Admiral Chan Peng Cheong. “Bersama Warrior has enriched all of us both professionally as well as socially. The opportunities we had throughout the exercise were tremendous. The opportunity to practice dialogue, to agree to disagree – we argue, we debate. The opportunity to gain extra knowledge and to achieve a unity of effort despite our cultural differences and various backgrounds. These are enormous.”