Interview

Published on September 25th, 2015 | by admin

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Working with the Irish Defence Forces is incredibly rewarding

SIGNAL speaks to US Air Force Pilot and current Defence Attaché to Dublin, Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Sean Cosden, about his work and the realities of cooperation and interoperability between the Defence Forces and the US Armed Forces.

Could you provide us with a brief overview of your career, including key appointments?

I have been the United States Defense Attaché for close to three years, and this has by far been the best assignment of my career.  This is not just because of how much my family and I have enjoyed living in Ireland.  It is also because I have found working with the Irish Defence Forces to be incredibly rewarding, and, moreover, every day at work is different and presents a new challenge.  I am an A-10 “Warthog” pilot by trade and training.  I began my career as an F-16 maintenance officer for a year before beginning pilot training, from which I was lucky enough to head to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, for A-10 conversion.  Since graduating from “D-M”, I have done three operational tours in the “Hawg”, as its affectionately known, and deployed several times overseas, including two trips to Afghanistan.  In between two of these tours, I had the amazing opportunity to try something completely different; I was selected as an Olmsted Scholar and, after a year of language training, the family and I moved to Bulgaria where I studied International Political Relations and Security at Sofia University.  It was something very different from flying A-10s, but a great preparation for the diplomatic world of working in an Embassy.

What is the role of the United States Defence Attaché in Ireland? What is the necessity for such a role and what are your core objectives?

As the U.S. Defense Attaché here in Ireland, I have three main roles.  First, I am the Senior U.S. Defense Official, meaning that I represent the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Ireland. Secondly, I am the senior military advisor to the U.S. Ambassador and other U.S. Embassy officers.  I provide them with recommendations and advise on how to talk to the Irish government on defense issues and areas of mutual security concerns. Finally, my office also manages the security cooperation program with Ireland.  We assist the Defence Forces to procure U.S. equipment, find U.S. training programs which fit their requirements, and continue to look for other opportunities for greater cooperation on defense issue.

The international security situation is as complex as ever, and it is impossible for any one country to face these challenges alone.  Ireland has a long and proud tradition of partnering with like-minded nations on international peacekeeping missions throughout the world, including with the United States in places such as Afghanistan and Kosovo.  My main objective as the Defense Attaché is to do what I can to ensure that Ireland and the United States, along with other international partners, maintain interoperability and a mutual understanding of each other’s similarities and differences.I believe that the defense attaché role is important not only because it provides the Defence Forces with a single U.S. point of contact for all military issues, but also because it allows for more personal and face-to-face interactions.

Should the Department of Defence in Ireland want a high level message relayed to the Pentagon, my office can accomplish that.  If the Defence Forces want to learn more about how other militaries handle a certain personnel issue in order to reassess their own procedures, I can find the right expert at headquarters to provide the U.S. perspective.  Without my office many of these things could still be accomplished, though the process would be more cumbersome and some opportunities would be lost. It also helps that as the Defense Attaché I am able to meet and get to know many officers on the General Staff personally.  Being able to sit down face-to-face in a familiar, cordial environment I believe makes these interactions easier and allows for a greater understanding when discussing complex issues.

 

Could you detail the cooperation that currently exists between the US Military and the Irish Defence Forces?

The biggest area of cooperation between the U.S. military and the Defence Forces is in the realm of training classes and exchanges.  Both of our militaries understand the importance of training with other nations, and I see the benefits as being three-fold.

It increases the mutual understanding and interoperability which I mentioned before. Secondly, it allows for the U.S. and Ireland to exchange best practices and differing tactics, techniques, and procedures. Finally, it allows for the direct interaction between military personnel, from NCOs and young officers to senior leadership, something which helps to build the bond that exists between all soldiers. The United States and Ireland currently have a standing agreement for Defence Forces officers to study at U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and U.S.

Army officers to attend the Military College at the Curragh. Defence Forces officers routinely attend U.S. courses such as the Operational Law of Armed Conflict training program and the International Shipyard Management course. Meanwhile, U.S. personnel have been able to attend United Nations Training School Ireland (UNTSI) programmes. My office continues to work with the Defence Forces to find other opportunities for mutual training, especially in areas where we can leverage each other’s expertise.

What level of interaction do you have with the Defence Forces as part of your role as Defence Attaché?

I interact with the Defence Forces on an almost daily basis. My main conduit is the Defence Attaché Liaison Office. It is through their office that I arrange meetings, set up official visits and tours, and the like. Meanwhile, they send me similar requests, including Requests for Information on how the US military performs certain tasks or handles various issues. I also deal directly with several other aspects of the Defence Forces and the Department of Defence. For instance, I work with the Director of Training and his staff to find education and training opportunities for Defence Forces personnel in a variety of US military schools. I liaise directly with the Naval Service and the Air Corps when we have a US Navy ship visit Ireland or an aircraft passing through Casement Aerodrome. I talk regularly with Department Contracting Officers and the Director of Ordnance and his staff to help maintain, upgrade and receive training on the Javelin missile inventory. And, just to keep me on my toes, I often find myself fielding questions from across the Defence Forces on a myriad of different and random issues, from protocol questions and visa inquires to travel advice and hotel recommendations in Washington. Perhaps the aspect I enjoy most about my job is that every day is different!

The ‘Shannon stopover’ for US Military and US Military related flights has been the source of considerable domestic debate. How important is the stopover for the USA in terms of military logistics and also in terms of the relationship between the two countries?

Shannon Airport was a pioneer in the early days of transatlantic aviation, because it is one of the westernmost airfields in Europe and the first to be reached on the flight from North America. Nowadays, most transatlantic aircraft have such fuel capacity and endurance that they do not require a stop in Shannon. Yet the US military continues to use Shannon for stopovers of military aircraft. In part this is due to the fantastic hospitality and welcome that the Irish have for all visitors. I myself have passed through Shannon on my way back to see my family in the States. I have fond memories of the warm welcome and hospitality, and I know that none of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and diplomats who transit would disagree with these sentiments!

I also must make it clear that the Irish government puts stringent requirements on any transits through Shannon and in fact all overflights of Irish airspace. My office spends a significant amount of time and resources not only to ensure that we are compliant with these restrictions, but also that we are open and transparent about these transits. I cannot stress enough the importance I place on compliance, the manpower that goes into adhering to all restrictions, and the constant fine tuning of the process that occurs when any issues arise.

The United States is not the only country who uses Shannon to refuel its military aircraft, though we use Shannon’s services more than most. Flights through Shannon include US forces on their way to serve on UN sanctioned missions abroad, including several which include Irish Defence Forces personnel. U.S. government officials routinely pass through Irish airspace on their way to high level meetings and negotiations. Therefore, Shannon is not only an important link between Ireland and the United States, it is a vital connection between Ireland and worldwide security issues which require a broad response. In many ways Shannon plays an important role in helping keep the world safe and secure.

 

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 (Lt Col) Sean Cosden

 




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