Building deeper partnerships, one leader at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman Raina Dale
  • JBER Public Affairs

Strong international military partnerships mean joint exercises are common between U.S. and allied nations. But they can also provide opportunities for in-depth learning for leaders to strengthen those bonds.

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Martin Castillo, the senior enlisted leader for the 673d Medical Group, was the first in the U.S. Air Force to attend and complete the New Zealand Defence Force Joint Warrant Officer Advance Course at the NZDF Defence College Nov. 18, 2023. The academically rigorous course included visits to Hawaii’s U.S.'s Indo-Pacific Command and Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and New Caledonia, a French territory in the southwest Pacific, to better understand Indo-Pacific concerns.

The nine-week course was preceded by a two-week immersion program, and consisted of an academically challenging curriculum facilitated by several New Zealand Command and Staff College faculty and subject matter experts from New Zealand's major universities.  

"Having students from multiple partner and allied nations is a critical part of the course," NZDF leaders said.

"The inclusion of senior enlisted leaders from international armed forces greatly adds to the range of military experiences and cultural diversity of the collective student body,” said Royal New Zealand Air Force Warrant Officer Jodie Boyd-Evans, Director of Staff Warrant Officer Professional Development, New Zealand Defence College. “It also provides an international peer group network that will enhance relationships between the respective armed forces. Equally, the course provides these senior enlisted leaders the tools to support their principals at the highest level of command across the leadership of the respective armed forces.”

The course is designed for senior service members en route to strategic positions at the service or joint level. Service members across the world are selected to attend; for this JWOAC iteration, five international students were selected – one each from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, U.K. Royal Navy, Singapore Army, and Republic of Fiji Military Forces.

"Of key importance were the perspectives provided by the international students,” said Royal New Zealand Air Force Warrant Officer Ian “Lev” Leatherland, Command Warrant Officer, RNZAF Base Auckland. “The opinions and insights of our international colleagues thoroughly enriched all of our discussions and experiences. These insights were an integral part of our education.”

The curriculum required students to produce three academic papers, three 40-minute oral presentations, and one guided 40-minute discussion. Two of the three papers focused on strategic geopolitical issues, social trends, and international military strategies impacting a service member's defense force in the years 2030 and 2050.

Castillo said the course sharpened his understanding of the challenges the U.S. and partner nations.

It was an opportunity to further refine my ability in the critical thinking realm and gain advanced insight into the security implications that are affecting our military forces  associated with the Great Power Competition with the People's Republic of China, or Russia aggression, and other dynamics that affect our global environment,” he explained.

A Great Power Competition is when large nations leverage superior capabilities against one another to pursue broad foreign and security interests beyond its immediate sphere of influence.

The third and final academic paper centered on the Overseas Study Tour, where each student analyzed France's and the U.S.'s Indo-Pacific strategies. The presentations and guided discussion focused on various strategic geopolitical topics such as the Great Power Competition, climate change, advanced technology and their impact on the military and society.

"In my personal opinion, the concept of Great Power Competition presents us with a unique opportunity to strengthen our bonds with our partners and allies, and work together to continue to secure an internationally acknowledged rules-based system that affords every nation a fair chance to provide for its people,” explained Castillo.

The visit to New Caledonia provided engagements with the French army, specifically its senior commander, and a French army capabilities presentation. The visit also included engagements with the French high commissioner to New Caledonia and the New Zealand Consulate-General to New Caledonia, providing platforms to discuss Indo-Pacific politics, trade, diplomacy, regional security, and societal concerns.

The second half of the Overseas Study Tour took the delegation to Hawaii to visit the Indo-Pacific Command and its subordinate commands. During the week-long visit, the delegation engaged with and learned about each command's strategy to deter and mitigate adversaries.

Each organization within the Indo-Pacific Command and its subordinate commands visited, provided in-depth question-and-answer sessions with key leaders. This honed students’ understanding of the United States’ Indo-Pacific strategy and how allies and partners can better contribute to protecting a free and open international system.

"I've always committed to the thought process that we are stronger together with our allies and partners – but to be able to see that personally and be able to form those partnerships and friendships with them resonated with me a lot,” said Castillo. “Additionally, we may have our set of problems  such as recruitment, or financial budgets, – and we may think they are unique problems to us; however,  our allies and partners are going through that same journey. I would say that's reassuring, because we're not alone in this journey and we can lean on each other and learn from one another so that we can solve these problems together.”