CARTAGENA, Colombia – Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson joined regional defense leaders at U.S. Southern Command’s South American Defense Conference 2023 recently, highlighting the role of the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program in security cooperation.
The 29th Chief of the National Guard Bureau’s stop here was part of a larger itinerary in Central and South America to nurture National Guard relationships, deepen understanding of challenges and seek new opportunities in the region.
The Republic of Colombia has partnered with the South Carolina National Guard for 11 years, and Columbia hosted SOUTHCOM’s annual conference of defense leaders Aug. 23-24.
“We deeply appreciate the partnership of the Military Forces of Colombia with South Carolina,” Hokanson said, “and their professionalism and willingness to work together. We learn together, and each of us gets better as a result.”
Hokanson emphasized the importance of collaboration between U.S. and South American armed forces.
“We have shared interests and concerns,” he said. “We all really live very close to each other. What impacts any one of us, impacts all of us.”
SOUTHDEC 23 – the SOUTHCOM conference – addressed two key issues: Cyber security and climate/environmental security.
“Climate change and environmental degradation remain ‘threat multipliers’ and pose a significant risk to our security,” Army Gen. Laura Richardson, SOUTHCOM commander, told regional defense leaders from 10 South American countries and observers from Canada and four European countries.
“The fallout of COVID-19 continues to impact our economies,” Richardson said. “The malign activities of transnational criminal organizations, Iran, and our strategic competitors – China and Russia – remain.
“And the dire situation in Venezuela casts a long shadow over the region. The fact is these transboundary threats demand our attention as they place an undue burden on our citizens.”
Army Maj. Gen Van McCarty, adjutant general, South Carolina National Guard, was one of the National Guard leaders at SOUTHDEC 23, representing the states with SPP security cooperation relationships with the 12 South American nations.
“We believe we’re learning as much as we’re hopefully teaching in this relationship,” McCarty said. “My message would be to take every opportunity we have together to recognize the challenges we have, to recognize the capacity, the capabilities, we have to work on common solutions and to realize we have a lot more in common than we have in difference: We have many of the same issues, same concerns and the same priorities.”
The South Carolina National Guard is executing more than 30 engagements with Colombia this year, with a similar number planned for next year.
Most recently, South Carolina Army and Air Guardsmen joined a humanitarian assistance exercise, treating more than 4,400 patients through medical events, evaluations, surgeries and dental care in Cartagena and surrounding areas.
“It’s a great opportunity for our Soldiers and Airmen who have medical skills to come down and put those to practical application,” McCarty said, noting that many of the Guardsmen bring civilian-acquired medical skills to their military profession.
South Carolina also joins large-scale military exercises in Colombia.
“The light infantry here in Colombia is some of the best in the world, and Colombia’s special forces are also very good,” Hokanson said. “So the exercises are very beneficial.”
U.S. and regional forces routinely train together in annual exercises; the partners collaborate to detect, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations and traffickers; and SOUTHCOM supports regional humanitarian assistance missions.
SOUTHCOM is one of the nation’s six geographically focused unified commands. The command is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean, Central America and South America and security cooperation with regional defense and public security forces.
-- U.S. Southern Command, Air Force Capt. Jon LaDue and Army Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely contributed