Strong alliances are built on personal relationships, and the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom perhaps grew a bit stronger after an exchange program partnered officers from both countries together for two weeks in Wisconsin.
Capt. Orrin Viner, with the Wisconsin Army National Guard's Madison-based Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry, hosted Lieutenant Nick Mellis, a British officer with the Scottish and North Irish Yeomanry as part of the Military Reserve Exchange Program, June 6-19.
The dates corresponded with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team's annual training at Fort McCoy. The exchange marked Mellis's first trip to the U.S., and it provided a glimpse into how the American military operates on a day-to-day basis.
The unit spent a lot of time on various weapons ranges, employing vehicle-mounted and individual weapons systems, Mellis said. Having the opportunity to see the U.S. command structure and training methods in action was a valuable experience for him, as was getting familiarized with U.S. weapons and equipment like American body armor and helmets.
On the whole, he said, there are many more similarities between the British army and the U.S. Army, but differences remain.
"It's just been interesting pointing out the similarities and also the differences, especially the finer details, between the two armies," he said.
Mellis hails from a light cavalry unit in Scotland with a very similar mission set to the 105th, so the concepts were familiar.
"The way operations are planned, the way orders are laid out, the way even ranges are run, it's all very similar processes," he said. "The big difference is actually in the actual wording of everything, so speaking on the radios, how you go about explaining what is going to take place. The wording is different, and I think that is where the big education point is.
"Whenever the U.K. and the U.S. work together, everything will be carried out very much the same, but you may easily get confused by the way someone says it, or how they describe it," Mellis said. "It's very different."
That was the biggest lesson he said he'd take back to the U.K. with him.
As members of NATO, the U.S. and U.K. operate with similar expectations, he said, but the need for clear communication and even understanding the American rank structure and scopes of responsibility were vital lessons learned.
"A lieutenant, for example, in the British army would never be in charge of more than a platoon, but obviously in the U.S. Army, it can run up to company or troop level."
Viner echoed Mellis's comments, noting the difficulties in nomenclature and vocabulary, and expects to learn similar lessons when he travels to Scotland to link up with Mellis again this fall. When comparing field experiences, Viner said he learned that British cavalry units travel much lighter than what he is accustomed to in the American military.
"One of the biggest takeaways I think I've learned from his descriptions of how they work is that we bring everything bigger, whether it's needed or not," Viner said. "I like being a light, quick scout, so it'll be interesting to see how their scouts maneuver and work with what they have."
The Military Reserve Exchange Program partners National Guard and Reserve officers with allied officers in similar branches and assignments for training associated with mobilization duties. The experience enhances the abilities of those officers to work in joint and allied environments and fosters strong relationships.
Viner and Capt. Matthew Myers, from the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry were selected to participate in this year's exchange from the Wisconsin Army National Guard.
Both Viner and Mellis agreed that the overall alliance can only grow stronger with future exchanges. Specifically with a decreased presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, where allied forces have operated together for the past 14 years and forged an understanding of each ally's tactics, the need to continue building on the relationships formed there is more critical now than ever, Mellis said.
"So I think it's important to continue doing exchanges, even if it's just one person at a time, so that we remember what we've learned and what we can do together so that in the future if it comes up again that the U.S. and the U.K. have to fight together again then we won't have forgotten the cooperation that we've had together these last 15 years," he said.
"The partnership will remain as strong as it was hopefully, so that in the future it can just carry on, and we can get back to doing it the way that it was in the last few years," he added.
Viner will travel to Scotland in September to train with Mellis and his cavalry unit there.