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Royal Thai Armed Forces leaders visit Washington for SPP

By Capt. Joseph Siemandel | Washington National Guard | Sept. 14, 2018

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. - Leadership from the Royal Thai Air Force, Royal Thai Armed Forces Headquarters and the Ministry of Defense traveled to Washington state to visit Washington National Guard operations like the Western Air Defense Sector and the Pierce County Readiness Center, learned from Microsoft's Cybercrime Center and took a trip in a KC-135R "Stratotanker" to watch jets refuel in mid-air.

The experiences were part of Thailand's relationship with the Guard through the National Guard State Partnership Program and comes from the hard work, continued support and personal respect the Thai and Guard have for each other. For more than 200 years, the Kingdom of Thailand and the United States have had a formal partnership agreement.

Through hard work and dedication, the two countries have long been close allies in times of war and peace while remaining diplomatic partners.

Through the National Guard State Partnership Program the Washington National Guard has been formally partnered with the Kingdom of Thailand since 2002. SPP is designed to establish long term relationships in which U.S. states and their partnered nations share best practices and expert knowledge in a range of areas.

"One of the most unique things about the state partnership program is you will see the same people every time you visit," said Col. Gent Welsh, commander, 194th Wing, Washington Air National Guard. "You may see someone at an exercise once and someone else the next time. But with the SPP, you build relationships and you keep seeing us and working with us."

Air Vice Marshal Tanasak Metananta, deputy director, Directorate of Operations, Royal Thai Air Force, along with Maj. Gen. Chartchai Chaigasam, director general, Office of Chief of Defense Forces, Royal Thai Armed Forces and Maj. Gen. Seri Sukontamalai, director, Defense Information and Space Technology Department, Thai Ministry of Defense, along with others traveled to the Pacific Northwest for the Command and Control Interoperability Board, a week of reviewing the current level of exchanges between the two countries.

The week proved to be more exciting than sitting in a classroom and talking.

On Sept. 11, Welsh and his Thai counterparts traveled to Redmond, Washington, to learn from professionals at Microsoft's Cybercrime Center.

"The Microsoft Cybercrime Center is where our experts come together with customers and partners to focus on one thing: keeping people safe online," David Finn, associate general counsel of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit, said in a 2013 release. "By combining sophisticated tools and technology with the right skills and new perspectives, we can make the Internet safer for everyone."

Following their visit to the Microsoft campus, the Thai military visitors were taken on a tour of the Western Air Defense Sector to learn about the mission and observe the operations floor.

"It was a great opportunity to continue to foster the Royal Thai Armed Forces partnership and help guide them in integrating datalinks into their homeland air defense," said Lt. Col. Michael Bartoldo, 225th Air Defense Squadron joint interface control officer. Bartoldo has been building his relationship with the Royal Thai Air Force since 2016 when he traveled to Thailand as part of the Command and Control Interoperability Board.

After learning about the unique mission at WADS, the group toured the 262nd Cyberspace Operations Squadron to talk about how the Washington National Guard is supporting the state's election security.

"Every chance we can get to build and strengthen our relationship with our Thai partners in emerging missions such as cyberspace is a win for us," said Lt. Col. Thomas Pries, commander, 262nd Cyberspace Operations Squadron. "We're very much looking forward to future opportunities to deepen this relationship and collectively learn from each other in this new battlespace."

After lunch, they learned about the training and equipment of the Joint Terminal Attack Controller with the 111th Air Support Operations Squadron, including spending time in their simulator dome.

"This falls right into the lines of effort for the Washington National Guard strategic efforts with our partners in the Kingdom of Thailand," Welsh said. "We are putting our like units together, and building stronger relationships."

To finish, the visiting officers traveled to Fairchild Air Force Base and took a trip in a KC-135R "Stratotanker" above central and eastern Washington as Guard members from the 141st Air Refueling Wing conducted a refueling flight for Oregon Air National Guard jets.

"This was a very exciting visit; we saw many different things," said Air Vice Marshal Metananta. "We appreciate the hospitality."

"We would love to get to a day where we can take our KC-135s across the Pacific to Thailand, bringing more Guardsmen there to do exchanges," said Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, the adjutant general, Washington National Guard. "This would allow for us to do so much more with our Thai partners."