By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2011 — Walk into just about any U.S. professional military schoolhouse, and you’re likely to see a surprising number of foreign officers and non-commissioned officers mixed among the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps students.
They’re a testament to the popularity of the International Military Education and Training program, something officials say provides a huge bang for the buck as it fosters relationships and military-to-military partnerships around the globe.
IMET is a State Department security assistance program, managed by the Defense Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, to provide professional military training and education to U.S. allies, Kay Judkins, DSCA’s program policy manager, told American Forces Press Service.
Last year, IMET provided training to more than 7,000 students from 130 countries.
“That is building a lot of influence,” Judkins said. “And that is really what this program is all about: influencing minds and hearts. It’s about cooperation, forming relationships and building partnership capacity.”
Because most students who receive the highly coveted IMET training slots are rising stars within their respective militaries or governments, Judkins said the impact of the program runs far deeper than the numbers might indicate.
With an annual budget of about $110 million, IMET provides a great return on investment, she said. Nations that can afford it, pay their students’ education costs, and the United States picks up the tab for those that can’t. For some of these nations, IMET represents their only source of professional military education.
This education has a more lasting impact than any weapons system or military hardware ever could, Judkins said. “You could give a military a helicopter, but how much is that helicopter going to make an influence on that country?” she said.
“That helicopter will come and go. But education and training could influence someone who becomes the next president of that country… and remembers his relationships with the United States and with other countries,” she added.
Among the thousands of IMET alumni around the world are Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Jordanian King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein.
Yudhoyono attended the Army’s Airborne and Ranger schools, as well as the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Ga., and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Abdullah attended the Defense Resource Management Course at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.
Other IMET graduates have gone on to become leaders in their armed forces.
“IMET is an investment,” Judkins said. “It’s not one of those things where you can always see the rewards after the very first course.” Sometimes the payoff takes time, as students who first participate in IMET as young lieutenants return for more advanced courses as they rise through the ranks to become military and government leaders in their home countries.
“We have an investment that takes years to develop and mould, but generally pays off in dividends,” Judkins said.
Those dividends demonstrate themselves in ways big and small. Judkins pointed to the responsible way the Egyptian military — a longtime participant in the IMET program — has responded to protest movements there, as one indicator.
Another dividend can be seen in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq, where many nations that benefited through IMET sent troops to support international coalitions working together in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
On a smaller scale, Judkins recalled a recent incident in which a Guatemalan military helicopter inadvertently ventured across the Mexican border and crashed there. What could have turned into an international incident didn’t, thanks to understanding generated through IMET.
“When it was all said and done, it turned out that the [Guatemalan] helicopter pilot and one of the [Mexican] officers on the ground knew each other because they had attended training together through IMET,” Judkins said. “And because they knew each other, they understood that it wasn’t intentional. It dissolved a big issue that could have become deadly in some instances.”
IMET students who attend classes side-by-side with their U.S. counterparts get exposure to the U.S. professional military establishment, from military procedures to how the armed forces operate under civilian control. This, Judkins explained, forms the foundation for strong military-to-military relations, increased understanding, and closer defense cooperation that enhance regional stability.
But IMET education extends beyond the classroom as students get exposure to the American way of life and ideals: democratic values, respect, individual and human rights, and belief in the rule of law, among them, Judkins said.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Here’s what we do in the United States,'” said Navy Vice Adm. William E. Landay III, the DSCA director. “It’s another thing to say, ‘Come to a war college for a year and sit through that and talk to people and go out in town and understand our values and how we apply them — from our democratic principles to our civilian control of the military.”
IMET has roots dating back to the post-World War II period when the military assistance program it grew from focused predominantly on Western Europe. That concentration has morphed over the decades to meet changing world situations.
During the 1990s, IMET reached out to former Soviet bloc countries, offering new courses on defense resource management, military justice, civil-military relations and internationally recognized human rights.
This led to the establishment of some of IMET’s specialty schools, including the International Defense Acquisition Resource Management program and Center for Civil-Military Relations at the Naval Postgraduate School; the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies in Newport, R.I.; and the Defense Institute for Medical Operations at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Today IMET’s focus has extended increasingly to the Middle East and northern Africa.
Judkins called this outreach a way to address vulnerabilities to terrorism and other regional threats. “The emphasis is on the Middle East and Africa because we know that terrorism will grow, and we know that vulnerable countries are the most targeted,” she said.
In addition, IMET is expanding its scope to provide more non-commissioned officer education and training, particularly for countries working to build professional NCO corps.
Mobile IMET education teams also have begun deploying to other countries to provide training tailored to their specific needs. The impact can be significant, because a single team can train 50 to 100 students at a time, Judkins said. Last year, mobile training teams provided about half of all IMET training.
Landay called IMET an important program that’s almost universally recognized for its contribution to U.S. national defense.
“It’s a superb program,” he said. “Anybody you talk to is a fan of the IMET program.”