State Partnerships Promote Southcom’s Theater Engagement
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI , June 5, 2012 When the Louisiana National Guard announced its new, official bond with the Haitian military earlier this year through the State Partnership Program, many of its members felt like they were simply formalizing an already-solid relationship.
Members of the Arkansas National Guard partner with Guatemala to help build a women's clinic in the Guatemalan town of Tactic, part of the National Guard State Partnership program. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Anthony D. Jones
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Six months before their January partnership ceremony, many Louisiana Guardsmen had just returned from a two-month humanitarian assistance mission called Task Force Bon Voizen -- translated, “Good Neighbor.” They delivered medical, dental and veterinary care to more than 32,000 people and more than 2,100 animals and built a three-room school, two medical clinics and restroom facilities.
The mission marked the second time the Louisiana National Guard was called upon to lead humanitarian relief efforts in Haiti since its devastating January 2010 earthquake. In addition, many other Louisiana Guardsmen had deployed to Haiti to participate in engineering and medical missions conducted there as part of U.S. Southern Command’s New Horizons theater engagement effort.
“Over the past two years, Louisiana has led two New Horizons missions, where our soldiers and airmen constructed schools and medical centers, and provided much-needed medical and dental aid to Haitian communities,” Army Brig. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, Louisiana’s adjutant general, said during the partnership ceremony in January. “We are truly committed to Haiti, and we know that we will gain as much as we give from this relationship with our Haitian colleagues.”
Now, working under the auspices of the State Partnership Program, the Louisiana Guard is taking that relationship to the next level as it helps the Haitians strengthen their government’s capacity to prepare for and react to future natural events, officials said. In addition, they are working to help strengthen Haiti’s national police force and supporting the Haitian coast guard’s activities.
Louisiana’s new partnership marks the latest addition to a popular National Guard Bureau-led program that has gone global since it was established almost two decades ago to support militaries in fledging Eastern European democracies. Today, officials at Southcom say it’s paying off in a big way as it fosters partnership and military capability in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
Twenty-one countries within Southcom’s area of responsibility are now officially aligned with National Guard states, Army Col. Daniel Vazquez-Rosa, director of the command’s partner nation and capacity building directorate, reported. That makes Southcom and U.S. European Command’s programs the biggest within the Defense Department.
Air Force Gen. Douglas M. Fraser, Southcom’s commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March that he’s a strong supporter of the program.
National Guard members are perfectly suited for the mission, Fraser said, because they typically serve in the same units longer than their active-duty counterparts. “That provides an opportunity to build an enduring relationship with that country they’re working with,” he said. “It is a critical long-term partnership-building capacity.”
Army Maj. Gen. Gerald W. Ketchum, director of Southcom’s theater engagement directorate, said the frequent interactions between state Guard units and their regional counterparts lead to better understanding and often, close friendships.
“We see personal friendships and relationships developed that carry on even as the rest of us come and go. And that is of great value,” Ketchum said. “We see senior leaders of the partner nations coming to weddings and to the homes of senior National Guard leaders in their partner states, and vice versa.”
In addition, Ketchum recognized the wide-ranging capabilities National Guard members bring to the table -- from their military training, their civilian jobs and contacts and their experience responding to natural disasters at home.
“We have every skill set the military has, plus what we bring from our civilian careers: law enforcement, firefighters, engineers,” said Army Capt. Hector Sotolongo, a Florida National Guardsman who serves as coordinator for Southcom’s State Partnership Program. “It brings tremendous value to the program.”
The Guardsman bring this background to the program, typically through five- or six-day engagements that range from conferences and seminars to workshops, subject-matter expert exchanges and senior-leader visits, Sotolongo explained.
As the Louisiana Guard begins building its new, official partnership with Haiti, it also is continuing its other, longer-standing partnership with Belize.
Other state Guards have more than one partner, Southcom officials reported. The Puerto Rico National Guard partners with both Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Florida has three partners: Venezuela, Guyana and the seven eastern Caribbean nations that make up the regional security system.
In addition, The Arkansas National Guard is partnered with Guatemala; the Connecticut Guard, with Uruguay; the Delaware Guard, with Trinidad-Tobago; and the Kentucky Guard, with Ecuador. The Massachusetts Guard is partnered with Paraguay; the Mississippi Guard, with Bolivia; the Missouri Guard, with Panama; the New Hampshire Guard, with El Salvador; and the New Mexico Guard with Costa Rica. South Dakota is partnered with Suriname, Texas with Chile, Washington, D.C., with Jamaica, West Virginia with Peru, and Wisconsin with Nicaragua.
Colombia has requested a state partner as well, and the National Guard Bureau is expected to announce that partnership soon.
“The point is, this is a growing program,” Ketchum said. “This is a great program, and it is certainly not stagnant.”
(Army Staff Sgt. Denis B. Ricou from the Louisiana National Guard contributed to this article.)