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Tom Rozman shares his experience with Canadian Liaison Officer: Inter Army Relations—Another Form of Leadership

Inter Army Relations—Another Form of Leadership

Article by Tom Rozman

The following vignette has a direct Canadian twist.  As experience demonstrates again and again, leadership takes many forms.  Early in our leadership journeys we benefit by forms of leadership that we do not fully comprehend or appreciate.  Outside the more direct and obvious leadership manifestations of superior officers, managers, directors or corporate officers we increasingly gain an awareness of and appreciation for forms of leadership manifested by colleagues, volunteers, the political class, friends, neighbors and spouses.  In fact, effective leadership may occur from many sources.  As well, in these sometimes overlooked venues, when it fails, grave consequences may occur.  In the strictly military community, a failure of spousal leadership when critical may lead to the compromise of a soldier or officer on duty.

One aspect of the wide range of leadership venues that affect the military sphere is that of the military liaison community between armies.  While one would suppose that officers selected for such duty would have been adequately vetted by their respective army for such assignment in terms of compatibility for the assignment, this is not always the case.  In my experience, the majority of foreign liaison officers I engaged with while on duty in Germany and Korea and when assigned to Department of the Army and U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command did demonstrate the professional acumen, comportment and presence that one would expect, but there were some who did not engage, were aloof and sometimes frankly unfriendly.

In the latter regard, though such personnel might have “official” and “less advertised” functions, the effectiveness of the liaison officer in my judgment always seemed best served  when the liaison officer had a reasonably engaging personality, was sociable, had curiosity and interest within accepted parameters about the host army and society, and could reciprocate professionally regarding the liaison officer’s army, the army of origin.   In its own form, the skill and ability the foreign army liaison officer demonstrated in negotiating these “performance” areas was its own form of leadership.  The officer just in one major area, was leading the allied army’s officers in the impression and sense of the liaison officer’s army.  In the latter case, my personal impressions over my 27 years on the U.S. Army’s rolls and as an Army dependent for 18 years of other armies was greatly influenced by what I took away from interfaces with the officers of the Australian, Austrian, British, Canadian, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Iranian (pre-Revolution), Irish, Japanese, Mexican, New Zealand, Spanish, Swiss, and South Korean Armies.  The majority of these officers demonstrated a keen professional interest in all relevant areas but were careful in my experience never to intrude into areas of sensitivity.  They were superb spokesmen for their armies, sharing readily what was appropriate to share on request about their establishments.  They were outstanding ambassadors for their respective countries.

Again, in my unique case, exposure to foreign officers extended back to my pre-army career as an army dependent.  I had interfaced with French and German officers on occasion in this earlier period to include ex-officers of the pre-WWII Czech, Hungarian and Polish armies which did add greatly to my sense of the foreign officer corps.  Even while a cadet at the United States Military Academy, interface with Mexican Army and other foreign officers did occur to include the number of cadets in the corps from countries like the Philippines and cadets visiting the academy from other programs, key among the foreign cadets being those visiting from the Royal Military College.

Relative to the “signature” an officer of foreign army experience may make a particular case comes to mind.  One officer of foreign origin on faculty at West Point was a U. S. Army infantry major.  He was a legend in his time.  A teenage combat veteran of the Yugoslavian WWII resistance against the German forces occupying Yugoslavia, his family immigrated to France after WWII.  He had subsequently graduated from St. Cyr and served as a Légion étrangere officer in Indo China and Algeria and had been highly decorated in French Service.  He had integrated into the U. S. Army where he had early distinguished himself in special operations.  He eventually retired from the U. S. Army as a colonel my last encounter with him being during REFORGER in Germany in the mid-1980s.  He was my instructor for the Revolutionary Warfare Course and perhaps the best professor of my experience at the Academy.  The relevant insights he provided were worth every minute in his class.

There were one or two exceptions over the years that I recall, typically officers that lacked the ability to engage, especially on a social level.  But fortunately, these individuals were rare.  As such, the vast majority of officers of foreign experience I found to be valuable sources of professional knowledge who expanded and enlightened my sense of their establishments.  In the curious form of leadership demonstrated in their liaison/ambassadorial roles they “led” me to an important sense of their armies, their armies’ cultures and what their establishments might bring to the table if operations between armies became necessary.

The following experience with the Canadian liaison officer at U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command during my tenure there illustrates the above.  The actions of the Canadian Army officers involved made a deep and lasting impression on me, impressions shared many times over with American friends and colleagues.

While assigned to the Collective Training Directorate, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Training (a major general occupied this position at the time), U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC–a full general’s command responsible for the U. S. Army’s training establishment and its combat and training development work) and prior to becoming the director of the directorate, I was assigned as the chief of the Concepts and Strategies Division of the Directorate.   The command was then located at Fort Monroe, Virginia.  (The command has since relocated to a new facility a few miles further west at Fort Eustis, Virginia.)  Because of the nature of the command’s operations, most major allied armies maintained liaison offices at TRADOC Headquarters.  The juxtaposition of the NATO Command in nearby Norfolk, Virginia and the military attaché offices in the embassies and Department of Defense Pentagon offices a two and a half hour drive or short 20-30 minute flight to the District of Columbia and Alexandria, Virginia, made the foreign officer network a fairly extensive one in the Northern and Eastern Virginia Area.

In the above capacity I engaged with the foreign liaison officer community fairly regularly professionally, these interfaces including the British Army Staff Talks, responding to liaison officer inquiries, communicating inquiries to the liaison officers and other warranted information sharing.  As well, there were social contacts and engagements to include being invited to the annual TRADOC black tie liaison officer dinner that featured hand prepared home country cuisine and several gatherings for dinners in quarters.

As it happened, I have had a long standing interest in military music and over many years acquired a significant collection of recordings of military bands and their armies’ traditional military music  from around the globe.   However, I had not as yet come across a recording from the music corps of the Royal 22e Régiment.  Being of Québécois heritage I was greatly interested in acquiring a recording from this unit.  It occurred to me that my contact, the Canadian liaison officer might be able to help.

I contacted the Canadian Liaison officer by phone and outlined my interest and inquired if he had any suggestions.  He thought briefly about the question then responded that the liaison officer at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina with the XVIIIth Airborne Corps was an officer from that regiment.  He would contact him and have him get in touch.

About a week later, the Royal 22e Régiment officer made contact.  He was a friendly and courteous officer and when I outlined my interest he confirmed that the regiment indeed had a band and likely had recordings.  I emphasized that my interest ran a little deeper than just obtaining the recording.  I mentioned that my grandmother’s people came from Beauce and my grandfather’s people from the Gaspé.  When I mentioned the town of my grandmother’s family and the family name, the officer responded with immediate bonhomme  stating that he was from that location and knew many people of my grandmother’s family.  He said he would check with the regiment and get back to me.

Several days later, the officer called back.  He stated that a new recording existed but the regimental band and its director were at the time on tour in Europe.  However, he stated that if I made contact with the person at the phone number he would provide and gave his name, arrangements to have a disk of the recording sent could be made.  He also expressed appreciation that an American would have such interest in his regiment’s traditions.  I responded that it was a great honor to have his support in this initiative and greatly appreciated his involvement.

I followed through on the guidance provided and the very kind staff in Quebec cordially responded.  I was privileged to receive a superb recording by the Royal 22e Régiment Band within a week of making contact.  I have enjoyed it many times since.

The above vignette is a rather inconsequential interface in the greater scheme of things.  But it does illustrate the array of interfaces that may occur between officers of different armies, especially with the liaison officers.  In this case, the Canadian officers demonstrated an engagement and follow through that deeply impressed their American counterpart, so much so that he considered Canadians very highly as a result.  He spoke often of their hospitality and professional engagement in ways that enhanced Canadian reputation—certainly a benefit to creating a receptive climate for the Canadian officers interfacing with their U.S. counterparts.

The Canadian officer’s clearly understood the value added of performing their duties in an engaged, friendly and supportive mode.  They exhibited a form of leadership in the inter army officer interface that assured a positive regard for their army and created a willingness on the part of their American counterpart to reciprocate where possible.  It is not lost on me that the “Canadian” connection may have been a little more in this case due to the sharing of information concerning antecedents.   But from this and many other interfaces, I am convinced that the professionalism and friendliness demonstrated by the Canadian officers would have been extended to any other American officer making the same request.