Small Wars Journal

An Investment in People is an Investment in Readiness: Shared Accord in Retrospect

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An Investment in People is an Investment in Readiness: Shared Accord in Retrospect

Jaron Wharton and Sean Parrott

Are Regionally Aligned Force (RAF) missions readiness-building or readiness-consuming for U.S. forces?

Having deployed recently in support of exercise Shared Accord 19 in Rwanda, we argue that an answer to this question requires nuance that is often glossed over. While we will not judge the merit of our deployment from a geopolitical perspective, we can readily attest to its benefit from the perspective of a troop-contributing unit.

Almost all discussions prior, during, and after our deployment centered on its impact on our readiness level. While we progressed in our “mission essential tasks” (METs), we believe that such a narrow construct downplays the development our soldiers gleaned from the deployment. With the recent transition between U.S. Army Chiefs of Staff, the top priority has shifted from “readiness” to “people.” Subsequently, we should consider that such investments in our people are an antecedent condition to readiness.

Shared Accord included more than two dozen partners hosted by the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and was one of a series of military-to-military activities across Africa designed to build partner capacity and interoperability. The event had multiple components from a collaborative medical partnership in Kigali’s military hospital to the construction of a United Nations Base Camp in Gako. It also included a multinational Command Post Exercise (CPX) and a Field Training Exercise (FTX). The CPX focused on peacekeeping and countering violent extremist organizations from a senior staff-level, whereas the FTX (led by our task force) allowed partnered militaries to integrate at the tactical level. Indeed, the deployment realized several aims – from increasing our ability to work as part of a coalition to deploying to an expeditionary environment. It also provided a powerful experience for our soldiers and important context to our missions across Africa.

We have a saying in our Brigade Combat Team (2/101) – “A Strike Soldier Fights Where He is Told and Wins Where He Fights.” We suggest this phrase benefits from the caveat that our soldiers must always understand the context in which we are asked to deploy. For instance, one cannot disaggregate our deployment from the genocide that occurred 25-years ago. This violent past seems distant to a tourist in Kigali, though the trauma lingers over the nascent democracy as was openly shared by our partners during our tactical exercise.

The friendships fostered through several weeks of realistic training led to respectful and candid conversations about this history. Several of our counterparts participated in “the struggle” in 1994. One colleague, now 41, was 16 when he joined the liberating army. His service included four years fighting in the Congo. Another officer grew up in a Ugandan refugee camp. His first taste of combat was on the same land in which we were training, a battalion-level defensive position in the early 1990s. He frequently pointed out the former government’s quarters as we traversed the prominent terrain features. They reflected on their fight for freedom, which in some cases, required marching hundreds of miles on little-to-no resupply. The resourcefulness of the RDF is an admirable trait, one that stands in contrast to the self-imposed limits western armies can put on themselves. The RDF always find a way to accomplish the mission, oftentimes in unorthodox and creative ways. As one officer noted, they “ate small and fought strong.”

As today’s soldiers predictably sought opportunities for WiFi, it was hard not to be mindful of the juxtaposition. Moreover, it was hard not to be impressed by how far the country has come. Rwanda is now the second-largest United Nations troop contributing country in terms of peacekeeping operations in the world, which is remarkable given its comparative size. Its increasingly professionalized armed forces maintain a responsibility to protect civilians, a duty they take seriously given their past.

In preparation for the exercise, we made every effort to place the event in context. Given that many of our soldiers had never left the United States, we wanted them to experience the Rwandan culture and have an overseas experience outside of the training environment. This naturally involved visits to the Campaign Against Genocide Museum and Kigali Genocide Memorial to gain a further appreciation for its impact. We also designed a professional reading series for our leaders to provide the backdrop for our deployment.  

Our two-week FTX seemed straight forward from a tactical perspective though it brought new challenges and experiences. We tested our ability to deploy to an expeditionary environment. We jointly conducted round-robin situational training exercise (STX) lanes in preparation for a five-day FTX in which our headquarters served as the higher command for a soon-to-be deployed Rwandan battalion. The exercise integrated elements of the Rwandan military, national police, and local police in a simulated peacekeeping operation. Due to the unique challenges of humanitarian missions the participation of local police units provided a critical perspective, one which ultimately led to a more realistic and valuable training exercise. Similarly, the U.S. contingent included elements from the “total force.” Reserve and National Guard units from Michigan, New York, and Iowa were able to train alongside the active component. Such opportunities are less frequent given the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and allowed specialized units including engineers and military police to build partner capacity in conjunction with their own tailored training.


A Dutch Soldier conducts an after-action review following a convoy operation during Shared Accord 19.

Soldiers operated under austere conditions within a coalition, which also included a contingent from the Royal Netherlands Army. Some U.S. soldiers commented they never fired their weapon as much as they did as part of these joint exercises. Others noted they were able to both build and teach classes for the first time, which gave them the confidence to do so at home station. A junior soldier from the U.S. found himself briefing multiple foreign General Officers, and did so confidently and effortlessly as he worked through an interpreter and in the presence of media. Importantly, such instances demonstrated to our African partners the critical role of the non-commissioned officer corps and the outsized impact it has on an organization’s ability to effectively operate at every echelon.

The opportunity to operate alongside partner armies from Europe and Africa also allowed for an organic exchange of best practices. Young leaders teaching classes to Rwandan soldiers alongside Dutch infantrymen showcased a myriad of different tactics and techniques refined during generations of war. It was a unique opportunity to demonstrate to our soldiers that we do not have a monopoly on doctrine or best practices. It also sparked many good discussions during our after-action reviews.

Experiences like Shared Accord 19 further demonstrate that readiness is more complex than MET ratings. The knowledge gained when a unit deploys itself from home station to another continent, trains with multinational partners on foreign soil, and redeploys home is nearly impossible to replicate. Conducting expeditionary deployment operations at the small-unit level builds capacity and a sorely needed institutional knowledge in advance of contingency operations.

Deploying in support of Shared Accord was an excellent opportunity to build partner capacity while enhancing our unit’s readiness. Again, these opportunities are often presented as “readiness consuming” and viewed as a burden to the troop-contributing organization. But the choice between building readiness and supporting these missions presents a false dichotomy. Deploying soldiers to another continent and conducting multinational training is an experience that develops and prepares soldiers and leaders at all echelons for future operations. It exposes us to new ideas, viewpoints, and doctrine that we can internalize and build upon at home station. And, if contextualized properly, such experiences drives home an important “why” that is critical to building motivated and proud formations that understand where they fight, and the importance of their mission.

About the Author(s)

Jaron S. Wharton is a Lieutenant Colonel and infantry officer in the 101st Airborne Division. He presently commands 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment and most recently served as the Chief of Staff to the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy on the National Security Council. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and holds advanced degrees from both Harvard and Duke, where he earned his Ph.D. in Public Policy.

Sean Parrott is a First Lieutenant and Armor Officer currently serving in the 101st Airborne Division. He is presently the Logistics Officer for 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment and most recently served as a Platoon Leader. He is a graduate of Santa Clara University.


Bill C.

Sat, 10/05/2019 - 10:54am

Consistent with my suggestion below, that our soldiers should see their deployments -- less from the perspective of the new, novel (and now probably discarded and abandoned) "responsibility to protect" missions -- and more from the perspective of old, long-standing, traditional "advancing the political and economic interests of one's own nation" perspective;

Consistent with this such suggestion, consider the following announcement of the Trump Administration's "Prosper Africa" initiative by then-National Security Advisor John Bolton on Dec 13, 2018:

"Under our new approach, every decision we make, every policy we pursue, and every dollar of aid we spend will further U.S. priorities in the region. In particular, the strategy addresses three core U.S. interests on the continent:

First, advancing U.S. trade and commercial ties with nations across the region to the benefit of both the United States and Africa.

We want our economic partners in the region to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies. In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience.

Second, countering the threat from Radical Islamic Terrorism and violent conflict.

ISIS, al-Qaida, and their affiliates all operate and recruit on the African continent, plotting attacks against American citizens and targets. Any sound U.S. strategy toward Africa must address this serious threat in a comprehensive way.

And third, we will ensure that U.S. taxpayer dollars for aid are used efficiently and effectively.

The United States will no longer provide indiscriminate assistance across the entire continent, without focus or prioritization. And, we will no longer support unproductive, unsuccessful, and unaccountable U.N. peacekeeping missions."

Herein, a great power advancing its own political and economic interests in other countries -- and dealing with the problems that these such activities routinely bring in their wake (for example, rebellions and terrorism) --  these are the missions that have brought soldiers to foreign shores for untold centuries, for example, as C.E. Callwell confirms here:

"Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization and this has been so from the early ages to the present time. The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences. Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in the regions afar off.  The trader heralds almost as a matter of course the coming of the soldier, and the commercial enterprise in the end generally leads to conquest."… (See Chapter II: The Causes of Small Wars.)

Here is et another example of this nexus between (a) foreign intervention and (b) revolts and terrorism; in this case, from as far back as the Roman Empire:

"Zealots: A member of a Jewish sect noted for its uncompromising opposition to pagan Rome and the polytheism it professed. The Zealots were an aggressive political party whose concern for the national and religious life of the Jewish people led them to despise even Jews who sought peace and conciliation with the Roman authorities. A census of Galilee ordered by Rome in AD 6 spurred the Zealots to rally the populace to noncompliance on the grounds that agreement was an implicit acknowledgment by Jews of the right of pagans to rule their nation.  Extremists among the Zealots turned to terrorism and assassination and became known as Sicarii (Greek sikarioi, “dagger men”). They frequented public places with hidden daggers to strike down persons friendly to Rome. In the first revolt against Rome (ad 66–70) the Zealots played a leading role, and at Masada in 73 they committed suicide rather than surrender the fortress, but they were still a force to be reckoned with in the first part of the following century. A few scholars see a possible relationship between the Zealots and the Jewish religious community mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls."

To understand the difficulty that such missions routinely present to the populations, thus engaged by the foreign great power, also consider the following from American Senator Benjamin Tillman back in 1899; wherein, he suggests that the U.S. renounce its claim of authority over the Philippines:

"Why are we bent on forcing upon them a civilization not suited to them, and which only means, in their view, degradation and a loss of self-respect, which to them is worse than the loss of life itself? ... The commercial instinct which seeks to furnish a market and places for the growth of commerce or the investment of capital for the money making of the few is pressing this country madly to the final and ultimate annexation of these people -- regardless of their own wishes."

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Soldiers thus today -- and much as in earlier times -- should understand their missions in foreign lands more from the -- old as the hills -- "pursuing and achieving their great power nations' political and economic interests" perspective -- that I attempt to explain, address and provide examples for above? 

(An explanation of "context," in this such specific manner, doing a better job of explaining to our soldiers such things as the rebellions and terrorism that they may -- or indeed will -- encounter on their watch?)

From our article above:


We have a saying in our Brigade Combat Team (2/101) – “A Strike Soldier Fights Where He is Told and Wins Where He Fights.” We suggest this phrase benefits from the caveat that our soldiers must always understand the context in which we are asked to deploy. For instance, one cannot disaggregate our deployment from the genocide that occurred 25-years ago. This violent past seems distant to a tourist in Kigali, though the trauma lingers over the nascent democracy as was openly shared by our partners during our tactical exercise.


Our authors here, LTC Wharton and 1LT Parrot; these folks -- re: their goal of helping their soldiers "understand the context in why they are asked to deploy" -- may, unintentionally, have hurt rather than helped their such cause. 


Given the seeming R2P emphasis of these leaders -- and the numerous "field trips" that they had their soldiers go on in this regard -- these leaders would seem to suggest the primacy, and significantly likelihood, of R2P missions for their soldiers.  In this regard, consider the following opposite argument:

"And the global obligation, articulated in R2P, to act militarily in extremis to stop mass atrocity crimes has taken place only once: in Libya in 2011. But the intervention in Libya to protect the civilian population soon morphed into regime change, as a minority of supporters of R2P have since conceded. The widely held view among R2P champions is that the Libyan intervention was right — it’s just that the implementation was faulty.

Regardless of whether it was right or wrong, there is very little likelihood of another R2P intervention in the foreseeable future. Syria, Yemen, and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar have demonstrated that all too painfully."


Given the "development" and "markets" emphasis of the Trump National Security Strategy re: Africa (see below), would not these leaders have better served their soldiers -- from an "understanding the context in which they will be asked to deploy" point of view -- by pointing, instead, more toward (and providing "field trips" re) the (a) developing markets for U.S. interests and the (b) protecting these developing markets for U.S. interests emphasis provided here: 

"Africa remains a continent of promise and enduring challenges. Africa contains many of the world’s fastest growing economies, which represent potential new markets for U.S. goods and services. Aspiring partners across the continent are eager to build market-based economies and enhance stability.  The demand for quality American exports is high and will likely grow as Africa’s population and prosperity increase. People across the continent are demanding government accountability and less corruption, and are opposing autocratic trends. The number of stable African nations has grown since the independence era as numerous countries have emerged from devastating conflicts and undergone democratic transitions.

Despite this progress, many states face political turbulence and instability that spills into other regions. Corruption and weak governance threaten to undermine the political benefits that should emerge from new economic opportunities. Many African states are battlegrounds for violent extremism and jihadist terrorists. ISIS, al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates operate on t he continent and have increased the lethality of their attacks, expanded into new areas, and targeted U.S. citizens and interests. African nations and regional organizations have demonstrated a commitment to confront the threat from jihadist terrorist organizations, but their security capabilities remain weak.

China is expanding its economic and military presence in Africa, growing from a small investor in the continent two decades ago into Africa’s largest trading partner today. Some Chinese practices undermine Africa’s long-term development by corrupting elites, dominating extractive industries, and locking countries into unsustainable and opaque debts and commitments.

The United States seeks sovereign African states that are integrated into the world economy, able to provide for their citizens’ needs, and capable of managing threats to peace and security.  Improved governance in these states supports economic development and opportunities, diminishes the action of illegal migration, and reduces vulnerability to extremists, thereby reducing instability." (See beginning on Page 52.)

(Note here that [a] even in the specific "Military and Security" section of this Trump NSS re: Africa, [b] you will find no discussion of such things as humanitarian intervention or R2P.)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

With R2P seeming to no longer apply to such things as our soldiers deployment -- and with such much more traditional things as "providing for and protecting access to markets and influence" one again seeming to "drive" the "soldier deployment" "train" -- then, accordingly, should not our soldiers be caused to:

a.  "Understand the context in which they will be asked to deploy"

b.  More from this such more accurate and traditional perspective?