MIAMI – Adjutant generals and other senior National Guard leaders from 18 states, the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands met at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in Miami Sept. 12-13, 2019, to discuss their longstanding partnerships with countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America.
National Guard representatives from more than 20 states were on hand at the command’s Conference Center of the Americas for the State Partnership Program’s 2019 Adjutant General Strategic Leadership Seminar, where they discussed ways to increase cooperation with partner militaries and public-security forces, support U.S. and regional security strategies, and help regional partners strengthen capabilities.
While welcoming the guardsmen, U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM commander, described one of the biggest threats those partner nations face.
“Transnational criminal organizations have moved into encrypted cyber ... and they thrive on dealing in narcotics, arms, people, illegal mining, whatever will get them money and power and influence,” he said. “In many cases, they are better funded than the security forces we partner with.”
Faller underscored how much the United States has in common with democratic partners in the hemisphere, but noted other nations that do not champion democratic principles are competing for access and influence in space and information technologies – two domains of rapidly growing importance in terms of domestic, hemispheric and global security.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the guardsmen play an important role in strengthening SOUTHCOM partnerships, and they know how to succeed in competitive settings.
“Partnerships is a subset of competition,” he said. “Who’s better at it than the United States of America. We were born to compete. We love to compete; we just want to know what the rules are.
“We’re [competing] against other people who don’t necessarily have the same rule sets,” Lengyel added. “I like our chances in that competition, with what we’re doing here. We’re making partnerships.”
The origins of the State Partnership Program date back a quarter century, when the Department of Defense established it to link the unique capabilities of its states’ National Guard with military and security forces around the world, expanding U.S. defense cooperation and strengthening its global security partnerships.
The department currently has 76 partnerships with 83 nations, including 24 in the region SOUTHCOM partners with. The first of those 24 partnerships at SOUTHCOM were established in 1996 between Kentucky and Ecuador, Louisiana and Belize, Missouri and Panama, and West Virginia and Peru.
The latest of those partnerships began in March, when Brazil signed a partnership declaration with the New York National Guard. The new partnership further strengthened unique ties that include Brazilian-American communities in Mount Vernon and Astoria, Manhattan’s “Little Brazil” neighborhood, and New York City’s annual Brazil Day. Approximately 300 commercial businesses in the empire state have connections with South America’s largest democracy.
Earlier this week, the Connecticut National Guard hosted members of Uruguay’s armed forces as the two celebrated the 20th anniversary of their state partnership.
Security cooperation under the State Partnership Program ranges from exercises and subject matter expert exchanges to workshops and familiarization visits. The engagements focus on topics of mutual interest such as aviation, logistics, engineering, communications, cyber, health, humanitarian assistance, disaster preparedness and professional development.
In July, West Virginia’s National Guard took part in a subject-matter-expert exchange covering aeromedical evacuation (MEDEVAC) operations with Peruvian military medical peers in Lima.
Also in July, airmen from South Carolina’s Air National Guard took part in Colombia’s Rio Negro International Aeronautics Fair. They later participated in a Colombian-hosted exercise called Relampago (Lightning) 4.
In Guatemala, medical personnel from the Missouri National Guard assisted patients in the country’s southwestern region while supporting Beyond The Horizons, a 12-week humanitarian and civic assistance exercise that began in May.
This fiscal year, the states have completed almost 120 engagements with partners in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. They have more than 200 planned for fiscal year 2020, a sign of the program’s growing popularity in the region.
State partnerships also allow for expanded bilateral engagements between various government departments in each state and their counterparts in the region, including those with expertise in healthcare, law enforcement, education, and emergency management.
Rhode Island’s National Guard, a state partner to The Bahamas since 2005, also attended this week’s seminar. A partner nation of U.S. Northern Command, The Bahamas is currently recovering from catastrophic destruction left by Hurricane Dorian, which passed slowly over the country’s northern-most islands as one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricanes in recorded history.
In 2018, the Bahamas hosted one of two phases of Tradewinds, an annual multinational exercise sponsored by U.S. Southern Command with scenarios focused on improving security and disaster-response capabilities. Guardsmen from Rhode Island trained alongside their Bahamian hosts during Tradewinds 2018, joining more than 1,700 military and civilian personnel from 22 partner countries who took part in the exercise.