Unity in Diversity: Coast Guard lends support to bilateral exercise in Indonesia

This article is also available in the RESERVIST Magazine, Issue 1, 2018.

Written by Capt. Joanna Hiigel and Cmdr. John Mower

Participants of a 10-day joint military bilateral exercise, Gema Bhakti 17 (GB17) take a group photo during the event in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Participants of a 10-day joint military bilateral exercise, Gema Bhakti 17 (GB17) take a group photo during the event in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Bhinneka tunggal ika, the Indonesian national motto, means “unity in diversity.”

This theme resonated with two reservists from Coast Guard Reserve Unit Pacific Command (USPACOM) who traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, in September 2017. Capt. Joanna Hiigel and Cmdr. John Mower traveled halfway around the world to support the 10-day joint military bilateral exercise, Gema Bhakti 17 (GB17). This was the fifth exercise of its kind held between the U.S. and Indonesia’s military, Tentara National Indonesia. It was designed to enhance collaboration and skill in planning a response to a regional crisis, with an emphasis on maritime security. For a second year, the Coast Guard was invited to support the design and execution of the exercise using its maritime security expertise.

Capt. Joanna Hiigel (left) and Cmdr. John Mower, U.S. Coast Guard reservists, pose for a photo with a member of the BAKAMLA during a joint military bilateral exercise in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Capt. Joanna Hiigel (left) and Cmdr. John Mower, U.S. Coast Guard reservists, pose for a photo with a member of the BAKAMLA during a joint military bilateral exercise in Jakarta, Indonesia, September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

About 50 U.S service members from all branches of the military joined about 50 Indonesian military participants, as well as members from civilian aid organizations.

The primary purpose of GB17 was to build allied relationships through execution of a simulated United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing international assistance for the general peace and welfare of a simulated nation. Tasks included providing protection from piracy, securing refugee camps, facilitating a safe environment for humanitarian aid delivery and preparing for a potential typhoon.

Participants were divided into two teams, each tasked with developing a course of action to meet the UN resolution. Hiigel and Mower, each assisting their respective team, worked with BAKAMLA – the Indonesian coast guard – as well as other military and civilian members to identify resources and provide expertise on maritime security and civilian-military collaboration in support of humanitarian and disaster response operations. The Coast Guard’s participation afforded both U.S. and foreign military services a chance to gain a greater understanding of Coast Guard missions and capabilities as a potential force multiplier in bilateral operations.

Cmdr. John Mower, a U.S. Coast Guard reservists, spends time with a Komodo dragon while exploring the culture of Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Cmdr. John Mower, a U.S. Coast Guard reservists, spends time with a Komodo dragon while exploring the culture of Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

“The hard part was the language barrier, of course,” said Mower.

Some participants spoke English, but not many of the American participants spoke the languages there. Hiigel said the Department of Defense provided interpreters to smooth the way.

The teams worked through a seven-step decision-making process used in multinational response environments. This cyclical process encompasses planning, execution, assessment, and adaptation for achieving military end-state goals and supporting both operational and strategic objectives. It is used to refine and update multinational force plans and orders as the command learns and effectively adapts to changing situations.

“The overall goal is having a good professional relationship with our Indonesian counterparts,” said Hiigel.

“Like any other exercise, it’s about raising the issues that get people thinking about plans and improving preparedness,” added Mower, “but with this exercise, we had a unique opportunity to share best practices with their coast guard.”

A second purpose of attending the exercise was to develop professional relationships with the Coast Guard’s Indonesian counterparts in BAKAMLA. The name BAKAMLA is an acronym made from the translation for Maritime Security Board. Because Indonesia is archipelagic, it has an extremely large amount of coastline. However, the service is still in its infancy, and it maintains a strong sense of its naval origins. Hiigel said she and Mower spent time with the BAKAMLA counterparts to help define and separate BAKAMLA’s roles from their naval counterparts.

BAKAMLA is working to form area maritime security councils, and work with port counterparts and other agencies to enhance their country’s security, preparedness and interoperability.

“All the great things we’re trying to do [in the U.S], [BAKAMLA is] trying to do there,” said Mower.

Capt. Joanna Hiigel gets up close and personal with a crocodile while exploring the culture of Jakarta, Indonesia in September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Capt. Joanna Hiigel gets up close and personal with a crocodile while exploring the culture of Jakarta, Indonesia in September 2017. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

USPACOM’s reps at GB17 appreciated the chance to get to know their Indonesian counterparts, who took time to show the Americans around Jakarta. Hiigel said a social event attended by the participants really helped bring the countries together quickly.

“There’s something about karaoke and dancing that breaks the ice and sets the tone,” she said. “The folks that participated formed a bond that lasted the rest of the week.”

She said the whole experience, from working inside the exercise to exploring the culture of Jakarta, was memorable.

“We had a great time getting to see the Indonesian history and culture in Jakarta,” said Hiigel, who laughed as she remembered “getting up close and personal with a Komodo dragon, python, and crocodile.”

Mower said that while it may have been risky, he jumped at the opportunity to get in the cage with the dragon.

Through their work in Indonesia, as well as other countries like Australia, Vietnam and Djibouti, Coast Guard representatives at USPACOM continue to support their DoD counterparts by building diplomacy and building capacity for all threats and all hazards, despite diverse military capabilities and foreign cultures.

Through shared knowledge and experiences, they are a part of USPACOM’s mission to increase understanding and, ultimately, create regional stability and unity in diversity.

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