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Reservists address European migrant crisis with Allies, partners

  • Published
  • By Col. Beth Horine, Air Combat Command Public Affairs
In the spirit of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s “Twice-the-Citizen” approach, U.S. Air Force and Coast Guard reservists, along with an international committee from 13 NATO nations, led a three-day civil-military exercise, known as a CIMEX, that addressed the migrant crisis across Europe, Africa and in the Mediterranean Sea.

Led by Col. Vanessa Dornhoefer, individual mobilization augmentee to the director of logistics, Headquarters Air Force, the exercise brought NATO and Partnership for Peace nations together to address the migrant crisis from a civilian-military resilience and internal defense perspective.

“This annual tabletop exercise brings together NATO and PfP reserve officers to better understand and address NATO-recognized challenges” Dornhoefer said. “This year’s CIMEX theme proved exceptionally relevant, as it dug into the core causes of migration and its effects from different perspectives: maritime, legal, resilience and national internal defense.”

Sponsored through NATO’s Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers, or CIOR as the French translation dictates, the Civilian-Military Cooperation Committee of CIOR hosts an exercise annually to promote best practices within the international CIMIC community, encouraging cooperation, information sharing and networking to better understand and address shared international problem sets.

The 2017 CIMEX expanded upon the previous year’s focus on refugee issues.

“This is the first CIMEX I’ve attended, and I learned so much about the refugee crisis across the European-Middle East area of operations,” said Capt Jacques de Vries from the South African Reserve Force Council delegation. “This year’s exercise continued to build upon my knowledge of how not only my nation of South Africa could integrate on refugee and migration issues as part of its border safeguarding responsibilities, but how a multinational force or organization can assist and respond.

“Learning more about CIMIC through CIOR CIMEX and CIMIC committee work could compliment cross-training and interoperability my country has gained in the recent, combined joint U.S.-South African military exercises like Exercise Shared Accord 2017, which practices the proficiency of participating staff and forces in peacekeeping operations.”

Dornhoefer’s multinational committee also includes Air Force Reservists Lt. Col. Jian Peña, 39th Flight Training Squadron director of operations at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, and Maj. Holly Cookson, interagency advisor, U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany.

Representing the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve on the committee was Lt. Cmdr. Eric Driggs, assigned to the Coast Guard Reserve unit at U.S. Southern Command in Doral, Florida. Peña, Cookson and Driggs serve as the U.S. delegates to the committee.

“The CIMEX provided a unique venue to explore real-world challenges and sharpen CIMIC skills among practitioners,” Cookson said. “These are issues that we are dealing with at EUCOM daily.”

Speakers included French, Hungarian, Canadian, German, British and American experts on the topics of internal defense challenges, countering violent extremism, military resilience, the role of militaries in migration and internal security, building refugee reception centers, and Coast Guard operations.

The exercise culminated with final briefings to senior CIMIC leaders, president and secretary general of CIOR, and CIOR’s permanent representative to NATO. These briefings provided senior leaders with creative courses of action to address the specific civil-military issues created as part of the exercise.

“While the speakers all presented salient insight to the migration crisis in Europe, the meat of what CIMEX provides comes in the form of the exercise scenario itself,” said Czech Lt. Col. Arnost Libezny, president of CIOR. “This year’s Exercise Sea Crossing scenario that Vanessa (Dornhoefer) and her committee developed allowed the CIMEX participants to really apply the concepts introduced and propose innovative strategies for their nations, both from their combined civilian and military perspectives.”

With more than 13 nations participating in the annual tabletop exercise, CIMEX offers countries a high-impact, professional development opportunity for mid-level officers and enlisted members and showcases the “twice-the-citizen” concept Reserve forces bring to their nations, leveraging their expertise to help problem-solve regional and international issues.

Dornhoefer said her committee’s planning for next year’s CIMEX, which is scheduled to be held in Quebec City, Canada, is already underway. Next year’s theme will be “The Intersection of CIMIC & Technology: Exploring Information Challenges in Complex Emergencies.”

(Horine is the IMA to the ACC public affairs director at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. She also performs public affairs duties for U.S. Air Forces Europe – Air Forces Africa. USAFE serves as the air component for both U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command.)