NEWS | Nov. 21, 2013

Ingenuity and strength: Foundation of partnership between South Carolina and Colombia

By Staff Sgt. Roberto Di Giovine South Carolina National Guard Public Affairs

COLUMBIA, S.C. - The mission of the State Partnership Program is to establish enduring civil-military relationships in order to improve long-term international security.

This mission is particularly important for a country like Colombia, which is constantly engaged in a war against terrorism and narcotics trafficking. Security depends on the Colombian army's ability to reach the most remote areas in the country and engage the enemy.

The 151st Aviation Regiment, South Carolina National Guard, and the Colombian army are united by a common, technical, denominator, the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk.

Both organizations are fully committed to achieving the mission's end-state: security and prosperity for the people of Colombia and the region.

La selva, as the locals call the jungle, is an unforgiving, inaccessible, tridimensional battle space. Day after day, the Colombian army faces its enemies - namely FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ENL ( Ejército de Liberación Nacional) - both masters of irregular warfare.

This combat environment is where the Soldiers of the 151st Aviation Regiment bring knowledge and experience, helping the Colombian army to maximize the operational capabilities of its 59 Sikorsky UH-60s. These Black Hawks are vital to the Colombians, as the helicopters are the main mobility assets in support of tactical operations.

During a visit to the Colombian army's Batallon de Mantenimineto de Aviacion (BAMAV2), in early November, a team of pilots, mechanics and crew chiefs from the 151st Aviation Regiment were able to exchange knowledge and operational experience with their Colombian counterparts.

Both the members of the 151st Aviation Regiment and those of the BAMAV2 know irregular warfare.

Whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo or the jungle of Colombia, there is nothing conventional about the type of missions flown and supported by the two units.

Not all irregular warfare environments are created equal, however. American standard operating procedures (SOPs) and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) apply to the current doctrine of global force projection, while Colombia's operational requirements satisfy a significantly different doctrine. Regional force projection-Colombia is fighting an internal enemy, on its own territory and with limited resources.

By bringing the 151st Aviation's professional knowledge to the BAMAV2 maintenance process, quality control and production control, the State Partnership Program is enabling Colombian maintainers to increase the number of Black Hawk's "blade hours," therefore maximizing the army combat sustainment effort.

Ultimately, this enhanced availability of helicopters will increase combat effectiveness for the troops on the ground, hence moving closer to an end state fitting both the goals of the State Partnership Program and the needs for security of the people of the Republic of Colombia.

"The depot-level maintenance's budget is 120% of the whole aviation maintenance budget, an issue challenging our maintenance facility every day," said Lt. Col. Armando Trullo Encarnacion, BAMAV2 commander.

The partnership between the South Carolina National Guard and BAMAV2 is helping the optimization of resources, manpower and parts, therefore streamlining the maintenance process. During this visit, Americans and Colombians started working on specific issues and sharing knowledge. American mechanics went through every step in the Colombian maintenance process, providing feedback and suggestions on how to maximize workflow, while the Colombians taught the American team how to "make things work" in absence of big budgets.

"A flying hour program of 1,600 hours per month on a fleet of approximately 50 aircraft requires careful attention to phase production and reducing non-mission capable time. They (Colombians) appear to be meeting the intent but face a challenge as the current bank time is slipping below the optimal bank time of 50%," said Maj. Bryan Lake, 2-151st Aviation Regiment executive officer and leader of the South Carolina National Guard's aviation team.

Lack of funds has not prevented the soldiers of the BAMAV2 from finding creative solutions to address the chronic shortcomings in parts, training and experienced leaders.

It has been quite the opposite with the Colombians mastering their problem-solving approach to maintenance. When tools were not available, they managed to get the job done. When diagnostic machines were not available, the BAMAV2 maintainers found creative ways to (literally) build them. In times of financial constraints, the "Colombian way" can inspire U.S. Army and National Guard commands struggling with budgets.

The Soldiers of the 151st brought back to South Carolina from their Colombian counterparts that personal initiative and ingenuity can go a long way.

This symbiotic relationship will grow in the next months and years, when suggestions and observations will be integrated in TTPs and SOPs. Ultimately, this is what the State Partnership Program is all about: providing solutions reciprocally and developing procedures beyond the limits of each partner's "toolbox."

"International security is the core end state of the State Partnership Program. The cooperation between the South Carolina National Guard and the Colombian Army shows the validity of the program through its tangible accomplishments," said Maj. Dave King, director of the South Carolina National Guard State Partnership Program.