Indo-Pacific military personnel learn skills, build relationships at Pacific Defender exchange


Pacific Defender exchanges improve interoperability and build relationships among military and security personnel from Indo-Pacific nations and elsewhere. The tutorials and discussions during the five-day program in early May 2023 in Honolulu, Hawaii, served to enhance regional security.

The gathering at the United States military’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam involved military personnel from Canada and New Zealand. The Security Forces Pacific Defender Subject Matter Expert Exchange featured classroom instruction and tabletop exercises, along with field demonstrations and hands-on sessions such as security dog handling, a weapons display and target practice with M18 handguns.

Discussions extended beyond the scheduled sessions.

“[What] I find the most valuable, when you’re out with our coalition partners, is the informal conversations that we have with one another that I believe are the gold nuggets,” said Warrant Officer Stephen Cottrell of the New Zealand Defence Force. “We can see how one another works, and just build those relationships. And when we do deploy, it’s nice to see a familiar face.”

Attendees observed as a U.S. Air Force Airman demonstrated his German shepherd’s skills. The dog subdued and detained a would-be suspect while receiving praise from its handler.

The U.S. hosts at least three Pacific Defender exchanges annually — in Guam, Hawaii and Texas. Participants come from nations including Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Tonga. Canada was a first-time participant in May 2023. (Pictured: Japan Air Self-Defense Force, Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Air Force personnel attend a Pacific Defender briefing in Guam in February 2023.)

Itineraries vary, but each exchange allows attendees to get to know each other professionally and personally, despite different languages and cultures.

Participants share information, learn skills and spend downtime together. By the end of the exchange, they are better prepared.

“We’re all singing off the same song sheet,” Cottrell said. “We’ve all got very similar procedures and if we were to deploy, I think we would gel nicely as a coalition.”



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