By Lt. Col. Len Gratteri
Delaware National Guard
WILMINGTON, Del. (9/22/12) – The Delaware National Guard and Republic of Trinidad and Tobago have been actively engaged in the State Partnership Program since 2005, but the latest visit was one of the most significant exchanges yet.
When Trinidad and Tobago celebrated the 50th anniversary of independence Aug. 31, partners from the Delaware National Guard joined in.
Although there were plenty of festivities to mark the milestone, the purpose of the visit was to strengthen ties and plan for future engagements.
Senior leaders from the Delaware National Guard met with U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago Beatrice Wilkinson Welters and her staff to discuss the program.
"Military relationships have been a big part of our history here in Trinidad, and those relationships have never been closer, more beneficial, or more crucial than today," Welters said.
Trinidad and Tobago has the largest gas, oil, and petroleum operations in the Caribbean and has become increasingly focused on infrastructure security.
"We see the State Partnership Program as a valuable tool to help address vulnerabilities and exchange ideas on emergency operations," Welters said.
"Many of our exchanges have focused on emergency operations and security to include port security, natural disaster response and communications during a natural disaster," said Maj. Gen. Frank Vavala, adjutant general of the Delaware National Guard. "And that's by design, just as the genesis of this partnership was strictly by design."
"We very much value this relationship and when we set out to join the State Partnership Program we were looking for a country with similar concerns, population, geographical size, and in the same hemisphere to provide the opportunity for numerous exchanges," Vavala said.
Trinidad and Tobago Chief of Defence Staff, Brig. Gen. Kenrick Maharaj, agrees the program is an invaluable success.
"This partnership enables us to work toward unification against threats, both natural and man-made,” Maharaj said.
“It also enables us to exercise our imagination on a global scale. It's more than just defense agencies, but humanitarian, business and political. We have a leadership responsibility in the Caribbean so our actions have a ripple effect."
The visit included a tour of the Trinidad and Tobago military facilities and the opportunity to speak with members of the republic’s military from the highest officer ranks to the newest recruits.
On Aug. 31st the celebration began with a parade showcasing the entire Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force, police, fire fighters and prison guards.
Later in the afternoon, the delegation from the Delaware National Guard was invited to the "Toast to the Nation," where Maj. Gen. Vavala presented a proclamation on behalf of Delaware Gov. Jack Markell to Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamala Persad-Bissessar and Minister of National Security Austin Jack Warner.
After the celebratory toast, each had the opportunity to meet the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, George Maxwell Richards.
National pride was on display all over the country at numerous ceremonies, gatherings, and fireworks displays. The Soldiers and Airmen from the Delaware National Guard could relate on that day as Aug. 31 also holds special meaning in Delaware.