BISMARCK, N.D. - The North Dakota National Guard last week hosted embassy and senior military personnel from the Republic of Benin and Togolese Republic as part of an engagement for the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program (SPP). This is the first major activity with representatives from these partner nations to take place in North Dakota.
Through the SPP, the North Dakota National Guard paired with Ghana in 2004 and with Benin and Togo in February 2014. These recent agreements elevate North Dakota as the first state with multiple partnerships in western Africa in what has become known as the regionalization concept.
"Any partnership is better when both sides understand each other, and this (partnership) has created a lot of great personal relationships" said Ambassador Robert Whitehead, the U.S. Ambassador to Togo. "This is also the first time we've established a single U.S. partnership (North Dakota) with three adjoining countries; coordinating actions between all three nations will increase cooperation and contribute to security and understanding between all partners."
In addition to Ambassador Whitehead, the Togolese ambassador to the U.S., Ambassador Limbiye Bariki participated in the activities. Representing the U.S. Embassy in Benin was Todd Whatley, deputy chief of mission and Emmanuel Ohin, minister counselor of the Embassy of Benin.
Nearly 20 civilian and military dignitaries from Togo, Benin and the U.S. State Department participated in the engagement along with about 50 North Dakota Guard members. A significant portion of this week's activities included a three-day LDESP (Leader Development and Education for Sustained Peace) course, which provided information to help leaders establish a regional, geopolitical and cultural framework for understanding the challenges of operating in unique and rapidly changing environments. Gov. Jack Dalrymple attended the workshop's opening session and welcomed the dignitaries to the state.
"All participants in this week's course and activities gained valuable information and understanding as we move forward with this partnership," said Maj. Gen. David Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. "We welcome this opportunity to learn about each other's capabilities and needs."
The selected presentations and discussions were designed for participants to become familiar with their partners. Because Benin and Togo are French-speaking nations, translators were on hand to ensure that all course presentations were clearly understood by all participants. The course began with presentations and panel discussions on a variety of military social issues to include gender equality. Recruiting, retaining and integrating women into the military is a common priority for the North Dakota National Guard and its partner nations. Participants were encouraged to exchange observations from their unique perspectives.
"There is no doubt that diversity is a force multiplier," said Command Sgt. Maj. Darcy Schwind. She added that, in her more than 30 years with the N.D. National Guard, the Guard has made great progress integrating women into the military. "We are a better, stronger organization when our ranks are comprised of people of different talents, abilities and backgrounds."
Other discussion topics for the course include science and technology, economic development and trade, history and culture, educational programs and an overview of each partner's armed forces capabilities.
"These partnerships are important for increasing understanding and cooperation between nations," said Whatley. "And they are especially important when you consider the threats and challenges that we all face with international terrorism, the rapid spread of infectious diseases, and emergency response and preparedness. Thank you, North Dakota for your role in these hosting this important partnership event."
One of the most relevant components of the engagement covered emergency management and disaster relief. Flooding is a common threat throughout North Dakota and its partner nations. Through the SPP, North Dakota has helped Ghana establish a preparedness program based off the state's model, something that also can benefit Benin and Togo as neighboring countries.
"The North Dakota National Guard is an ideal partner for the countries of Togo and Benin because of the Guard's diverse and unique mission capabilities that allow for a robust military-to-military exchange," Sprynczynatyk said. "We share the goals of building the peacekeeping capacity of our forces and promoting long-term stability and prosperity for all countries in Africa. We look forward to many years of productive relationships and learning from our new partners."
Sprynczynatyk said he is eager to collaborate with Benin and Togo to expand the interoperability among the partners. This summer, he and other North Dakota Guard members will follow up with other SPP engagements.
"We, in Benin, will do our best to make sure this partnership is a strong one," said Benin Chief of Defense Brig. Gen. Awal Nagnimi through a translator.
The North Dakota National Guard facilitated tours of notable sites in the state in order to provide the Beninese and Togolese visitors, who arrived last week, insight into North Dakota's culture and history. Over the weekend, they visited Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the University of North Dakota's aerospace science facilities, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Garrison Dam. They also toured the Guard's Camp Grafton Training Center near Devils Lake, North Dakota, where they were provided an overview of the Guard's Regional Training Institute capabilities, facilities and military school-house mission, as well as the camp's training sites.