A Yankee Serving Across the Pond
The Personnel Exchange Program allows Sailors to live abroad
BLUF: The Personnel Exchange Program (PEP), available through detailers, allows Sailors to serve with foreign navies or with another branch of the U.S. Military. If it is not an English speaking country, Sailors will be sent to language training before integration.
"While not away, my family and I have maximized every opportunity we could for travel and playing the tourists," said Lt. Joshua Cowart. "The British Isles are beautiful and full of so much history. Europe is an easy day trip away and we've on more than one occasion had breakfast in the UK, lunch in France, and dinner in Belgium."
Cowart is not on vacation. For the past two years he and his family have lived in Portsmouth, England thanks to the PEP, which has allowed him to be a fully integrated member of the Royal Navy.
PEP allows individuals to serve either in other branches of the U.S. military or in foreign militaries as fully integrated members of those organizations. The opportunity is aimed at enhancing international and inter-service relationships. At the moment, there are about 200 exchanges with around 20 different nations, including amazing postings in countries like Australia, Belgium, and France. On top of that there are 40 inter-service exchanges with the US Air Force, Army, Marines, and Coast Guard.
"I first came across the program via my Operations Officer in a past command," said Cowart. "He had taken a PEP with the Canadian Navy in Halifax, Nova Scotia and absolutely loved it. After hearing his stories I began looking into the program and leapt at the opportunity when I saw PEP on my slate."
Detailers maintain the plot of available exchanges. When slates are released, the assignments will be shown along with details of what the position will be and any pre-joining training that is required. However, if exchanges aren't on a particular slate, liaise with the detailers. They'll be able to fill in the details of eligibility and availability.
Cowart is currently the Operations Officer with Mine Countermeasures Squadron Two Crew Eight. The Royal Navy uses rotational crews in the mine hunters, so he has served in HMS MIDDLETON and HMS CHIDDINGFOLD.
"As a crew we spent several weeks up in Scotland conducting our Operational Sea Training and Exercise Joint Warrior," said Cowart. "Once we'd completed the required certifications and training, we headed out to Bahrain for a seven-month Operation KIPION deployment, during which we did maritime security operations, detailed route survey work, large scale international exercises, and supported contingency operations."
Cowart was able to bring over his family and their car, although he admits that bringing over the Dodge Charger, in retrospect, perhaps wasn't such a great decision given the narrow roads and even narrower parking spaces.
"Driving on the 'wrong' side of the road is actually easier than you would think," said Cowart. "It is much easier to go from driving on the right to driving on the left. It is much easier than reverting back to 'normal.'"
Overall Cowart said he and his family have fit in very well.
"The Royal Navy could not be more hospitable," said Cowart. "There's been the normal amount of banter which you might expect to have directed at a Yank serving in Her Majesty's Navy, especially around the 4th of July, but it's all in good fun. As you'd expect, there was a transitional period required to get my feet underneath me, but everyone's been really understanding and supportive. It's truly been a great experience so far."
However, one thing that hasn't exactly left the best taste in his mouth has been the food.
"Let's be honest here; the British Isles aren't exactly known for haute cuisine," said Cowart. "In all actuality, the food is pretty good, though a little unvaried. There's a cultural fascination with curry; the standard weekend's festivities typically involve 'ten pints and a curry.' So, that took a bit of getting used to. Pubs represent the bulk of the restaurants here in Portsmouth and one may gaze at the menu for quite a while attempting to determine exactly what will arrive at the table if "gammon" is ordered and then be pleasantly surprised when it turns out that "gammon" is actually just country ham. My children have had a bit of fun in sorting out the differences with fries being chips and chips being crisps, much to our amusement. All in all, though, the food's been pretty good.
After his PEP tour, Cowart will be heading to Surface Warfare Officers School Command in Newport, Rhode Island for Department Head School. Following training there he is penciled in as the weapons officer aboard USS O' Kane (DDG 77) homeported in Pearl Harbor, HI.
But there is one thing he will never forget about his experiences with the Royal Navy.
"I think what stood out the most was seeing a crew that stood united in one purpose, embracing and believing in the mission. Our Commanding Officer, Lt. Cdr. Andy Brown, had a philosophy that he called the 'Crew 8 Way.' Although simple and to the point; it truly resonated with the sailors. The mission was simple: Be on the front foot and create the conditions for our success. The one point which I took most to heart was the idea of making your own luck - luck being defined as what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Cowart is going on one more adventure before his time with the program comes to an end. He was extended for a couple months in order to complete his participation in Antarctic Endurance 2016, a two-year research program, conducted by members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, which looks into team dynamics and performance.
"I applied for this program at the commencement of the two-year study and was selected to join the final team headed south," said Cowart. "We began the training with fifty applicants and through various sailing and mountaineering events have chosen eleven to make the final push."
The AE16 team will sail from the Falkland Islands to the Antarctica Peninsula, as far south as the ice will allow. While there, the team will conduct survey work and data gathering for various organizations such as Plymouth University, Cambridge University, and the UK Hydrographic Office. Once complete, the team will set sail for Elephant Island where they will conduct similar work prior to setting off for King Haakon Bay in South Georgia.
"The research into leadership and team dynamics which we will complete readily transfers across to the USN and is immediately applicable for leaders across the full spectrum of the Navy. The expedition will make me personally a stronger and more capable leader, a trait which I can then pass on to the Sailors which I go on to work with in the future. It is also my hope that this expedition will serve to inspire Sailors to seek challenges, adventure, and unique experiences throughout their careers."
More information about team of explorers can be found on their website at www.antarcticendurance.co.uk , on Facebook under Antarctic Endurance 2016, and on Twitter under @Antarctic2016.
Cowart is ready to continue his career in the U.S. Navy, and although the beards and daily beer rations typical among the Brits probably won't catch on over here, there is something Cowart hopes to bring back with him in regards to the Royal Navy's tendency toward delegating authority down to the lowest level.
"We like to tell ourselves in the USN that we keep things at the lowest level, but in reality simple decisions are brought before the commanding officer which could have been, and arguably should have been, made by a more junior person," said Cowart. "In stark contrast to that, the CO's in the Royal Navy tend much more towards empowerment of subordinates. As a result, the crews tend to be much more productive."
The PEP is open to both officers and enlisted personnel. There are prerequisites and eligibility requirements that have to be met. Service members who are interested in applying should contact their detailers for further information. Also have a read through MILPERSMAN 1306-921 and OPNAVINST 5700.7H for further details.
For more information check out Navy.mil article Personnel Exchange Program Can Take You Places