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NEWS | May 21, 2024

In Thailand, Hokanson Sees Enduring Partners in Name and Practice

By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely, National Guard Bureau

BANGKOK –The National Guard’s top officer visited with Washington Guardsmen and Royal Thai Armed Forces troops training together May 7-9.

The Washington National Guard has worked closely with Thailand under the Defense Department’s National Guard State Partnership Program since 2002. Last year, the two launched a troop exchange exercise with a name befitting the strong bonds shared by both nations: Enduring Partners.

“We must continue to train and operate with our allies and partners so we are integrated and ready to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson,chief, NationalGuard Bureau.“This is one of our model partnerships in the Indo-Pacific area of operations and just one example of how National Guardsmen build lasting relationships on a global scale.”

Enduring Partners is an annual event to improve combat readiness and interoperability between the Royal Thai Air Force, Washington National Guard, and other state National Guard units. It’s one of a dozen or so SPP events held annually to enhance security cooperation ties and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Last year, more than 300 U.S. service members joined Thai equivalents to participate in the inaugural Enduring Partners exercise to increase compatibility in air operations and air-to-air refueling.

This year, about 30 Washington Air National Guardsmen arrived in Bangkok on April 26 onboard a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft. The next day, the Washington Guard aircrew from the 141st Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, lifted off again, returning to Joint Base Lewis-McChord carrying 30 members from the RTAF as part of the reciprocal exchange.

In all, more than 250 National Guardsmen from Hawaii and Washington, plus active-duty U.S. Air Force personnel participated in Enduring Partners 24. This year’s iteration focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, medical best practices, tactical air control party and joint terminal attack, defensive cyber, ground-controlled interception and space operations.

The RTAF is strengthening its role both in the defense of Thailand’s sovereignty and in collective security against shared threats to global air and cyberspace domains.

Cyber is an area of increasing importance globally, Hokanson said. Speaking at the Defense Services Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur days prior, the general said the U.S. is at war in the cyber domain every day.

Hokanson, joined by Army Maj. Gen. Bret Daugherty, Washington’s adjutant general, told Thailand’s military leaders that Guardsmen—through civilian-acquired skills and training—are well-postured to help defend critical infrastructure against cyber-attacks—something the Thai military is looking to build on through its long-term relationship with the Washington Guard.

“We have some of the best cyber professionals in the United States,” Hokanson told Gen. Songwit Noonpakdi, Thailand’s chief of defense forces. “With the National Guard, we work very closely with state agencies to identify the critical infrastructure and to ensure that it will be resilient and can withstand attacks.”

Noonpakdi credits the Washington Guard for helping the Thai military stand up its cyber center.

“We’re taking cyber to another level, but the first brick of the foundation was laid by the Washington National Guard,” he said.

Amid a technological revolution with emerging technologies and non-traditional threats, ties between the U.S. and Thailand are mature, and will be more critical in the future, Hokanson said.

The two countries established relations in 1818 and signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833, formalizing diplomatic relations. Thailand is one of five U.S. treaty allies in Asia. The country’s stability and growth are significant factors in maintaining peace in the region.

Thailand averages 40 joint events per year, including Cobra Gold, the largest annual Asia-Pacific military exercise and one of the largest multinational military exercises in the world.

Washington Guardsmen are regular participants in Cobra Gold, Hanuman Guardian and Cope Tiger, among other named exercises in Thailand.

In 2019, Thailand was the first foreign country to purchase Stryker armored fighting vehicles, allowing exchange opportunities with the Washington Army Guard’s 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Every year, the Washington Guard and Royal Thai Armed Forces conduct exchanges that span the defense and support to civil authorities’ spectrum.

As part of the SPP, the Guard is linked with 17 nations in the Indo-Pacific region—an expanse that is home to half the world’s population, accounting for 60% of the global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. The United States’ Indo-Pacific Strategy names this area the most dynamic and fastest-growing region on earth and an essential driver of America’s future security and prosperity.

Guardsmen have conducted some 600 events with partners in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility in the past five years. Through SPP relationships, the Guard can help ensure that the U.S. remains the partner of choice in Southeast Asia and beyond, Hokanson said.

“One of our greatest roles is deterrence: to prevent war and maintain peace,” he said. “These partnerships are vital to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and preserve the international rules-based order.”

“You coming here sends a signal that you’re here to stay,” Noonpakdi told him. “The foundation for networking with allies and partners is through the state partnership with the Washington Guard. The foundation of how we connect with the U.S. is through this partnership.”

-- Air Force Lt. Col. Alyson Teeter and Airman Jordaan Kvale, Washington Air National Guard, contributed



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