A few weeks back, I had the privilege of attending a remarkable event where I witnessed teams from many nations come together to put their bodies and minds to the test, competing against one another in a series of athletic events to see who would emerge as the true champion. I wasn't at the London Olympics; I was in the middle of Tolemaida, Colombia at the Ninth Annual Fuerzas Comando exercise, a competition featuring special operations forces from 21 countries, and came to face-off with elite military forces from across the Western Hemisphere.
Around the world, Foreign Policy Advisors (POLADs) -- diplomats assigned to serve as advisors to U.S. military commanders in the United States and overseas -- have become a key element in forging "whole of government" solutions and approaches that combine diplomacy, development and defense in pursuing our nation's foreign policy and security goals. Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta have led the way in making all components of our government work better and smarter. United States Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), one of six geographic combatant commands within the Department of Defense, has long been a pioneer of this approach, and I am proud to be a part of more than 1,200 military and civilian personnel supporting U.S. national security interests, and fostering security, stability, and prosperity with our partners in the region.
This year's competition consisted of military and police forces from the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Uruguay. During the eight-day competition, five-person “assault” teams and two-person “sniper” teams endured the toughest mental and physical tests of special operations, including obstacle courses, marksmanship, boating and swimming competitions, then culminating with the incredible sight of all the teams working together in a joint airborne operation.
For the fifth time in the history of this exercise, Colombia earned the champion title, while Ecuador took second place, followed by Uruguay finishing in third place. Fuerzas Comando 2012 was hands-down one of the best experiences I have had on the job. It was an event not to be missed, and one that encompassed many topics and skills to increase the cooperation between countries. The excellent skill sets of the forces from all participating countries are fantastic and the opportunity to gather and compete truly serves to strengthen cooperation and interoperability among our partner nations.
Working as a POLAD at USSOUTHCOM means there is no truly "typical" day in or out of the office; that is the beauty of the job. Every day brings an opportunity to work on important policy and operational issues across the 30 countries in USSOUTHCOM's area of responsibility. I have the privilege of working with highly-energetic, motivated colleagues in a fast-paced, results-oriented professional environment. The sheer variety of issues and challenges that I deal with on a day-to-day basis, along with the opportunities to put my regional experience to good use in advancing U.S. national security objectives are true highlights of my position. Observing the close cooperation and sense of shared mission among our partner nation militaries was a fantastic experience.
We are proud to have invested 10 years in supporting Fuerzas Comando -- and our partner nations should also be extremely proud of the skills and performance of their competing special operations teams.