As the North Carolina National Guard builds on successes of the Southern Accord 12 exercise that wrapped up earlier this month with Botswana, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said he’ll press to expand the State Partnership Program on the continent.
Army General Carter F. Ham, who calls himself “a big fan” of the National Guard program, said he hopes to increase the number of partnerships in Africa to as many as a dozen within the next two years.
“The State Partnership Program is one of the most important tools that we have in our collective kit bag,” Ham said during an interview at Thebephatshwa Air Base, Botswana, with Soldiers Radio and Television Service correspondent Gail McCabe. “And we see that certainly here between North Carolina and Botswana, where it is hugely powerful.”
Ham said he has asked the National Guard Bureau chief, Air Force General Craig R. McKinley, to consider additional partnerships. “I would like to get two more this year, and maybe two more next year, and then see how that might unfold,” he said. Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year Libya could be a good candidate for the program.
The State Partnership Program has grown dramatically since it was formed 20 years ago to support former Soviet bloc countries after the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, the program includes partnerships with 63 countries around the world.
Africom currently has eight state partnerships. The California National Guard is partnered with Nigeria, the New York Guard with South Africa, the North Dakota National Guard with Ghana, the Michigan National Guard with Liberia, the Vermont National Guard with Senegal, the Utah National Guard with Morocco, and the Wyoming National Guard with Tunisia.
The North Carolina Guard has partnered with Botswana since 2008.
Based on its partnership with Moldova since 1995, the North Carolina Guard applied lessons learned to quickly build a productive relationship with Botswana, Army Major General Gregory A. Lusk, North Carolina’s adjutant general, told American Forces Press Service.
“We had the benefit of a partnership with Moldova that was a very mature relationship,” he said. “So based on that experience, we knew where we could go in fostering a partnership with Botswana, and we were able to do it more efficiency and much quicker.”
Lusk, on his third trip to Botswana over the past year, said relationships forged with the Botswana Defense Force went a long way toward increasing the effectiveness of Southern Accord 12, U.S. Army Africa’s largest-ever exercise on the continent.
The exercise, which ran August 1 to 17, brought together almost 700 U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors and an equal number of their Botswana Defense Force counterparts for classroom and field exercises as well as humanitarian outreach projects.
In addition, the Air Force integrated its annual Medlite exercise into Southern Accord for the first time this year, with members of the North Carolina Air National Guard teaching aeromedical evacuation techniques to Botswana Defense Force medical personnel.
Army Colonel Randy Powell, commander of the North Carolina Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, credited the State Partnership Program with ensuring that when he arrived here to serve as the joint task force commander for the exercise, he didn’t have to start at square one to get the lay of the land.
“This is my forth visit to Botswana, and each one builds on the next, creating better understanding and closer collaboration,” Powell said. “That foundation has been vital to getting this exercise under way smoothly and making it such a big success.”
Regular engagement between the North Carolina Guard and the Botswana Defense Force, with members of both militaries traveling between the two countries for training, has created a model of cooperation and synchronization, he said. Botswana has “such a professional military that you feel like you are working with someone in your own military,” Powell said. “We have a lot in common in terms of interoperability, and we continue to build on that.”
“It’s all about continuity and enduring relationships,” said Army Major General Timothy J. Kadavy, deputy director of the Army National Guard, as he watched U.S. and Botswanan forces conduct the final field training exercise during Southern Accord. “You don’t get those relationships unless you come back again and again and again. That is important in understanding and building trust.”
As the State Partnership Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Kadavy said he’s enthusiastic about plans to expand in Africa.
“The Guard wants to support Africom to the best of our ability,” he said, recognizing that AFRICOM and U.S. embassy teams are in the best position to judge which countries want to form partnerships and are prepared to do so.
With Southern Accord now concluded, Lusk said he looks forward to seeing the North Carolina National Guard take progress made during the exercise to the next level.
“To be able to do an exercise of this magnitude now shows, very visibly, that we have turned the corner in terms of where this partnership has gone,” he said. “It allows us to jumpstart our efforts and accelerate where we are bound.”
“The sky is really the limit of what you can do with the engagements, and tying them together with what the Army service components and the geographical combatant commanders are doing,” agreed Kadavy.
“It is just a matter of coordination, and thinking through and seeing how we can synchronize and gain the synergy of what they want to do and what we can provide through State Partnership Programs to assist and empower those types of engagements and exercises,” he said.