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NEWS | April 3, 2014

Texas National Guard and Chilean Armed Forces leaders meet to discuss future of partnership

By Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon Texas Military Forces

SANTIAGO, Chile - Senior leaders of the Texas National Guard and the Chilean Armed Forces met for the Annual State Partnership Program Planning Meeting in Santiago, Chile, March 26, 2014. There the leaders discussed, planned and agreed on the security cooperation events that the two organizations will conduct in the next two years.

The partnership between Texas and Chile is part of the State Partnership Program, or SPP, run by the National Guard Bureau. It allows State National Guards to partner with nations around the world to strengthen relationships and interoperability, enhance military capabilities and increase cultural awareness and professional skills among U.S. military personnel and their counterparts.

According to Brig. Gen. Patrick Hamilton, commander of the Joint Texas Domestic Operations Command, an informal relationship with Chile started before the two were formally announced as partners, back when a former Texas adjutant general and the current Chilean president attended school together.

"Maj. Gen. [Ret.] Charles Rodriguez went to the Inter-American Defense University with Michelle Bachelet," Hamilton said. "There they became friends; he became the adjutant general of Texas and she became the president of Chile. So we reached out to Chile to see if they'd be interested in forming State Partnership with us, they were very interested and so we formally requested the partnership."

The Texas National Guard and Chile have been partnered since 2008 and have conducted close to 80 exchanges, some of which include airborne operations, artillery fire, C-130 and F-16 maintenance and flight maneuvers, special forces exchanges, combat casualty care practices, homeland response capabilities and even environmentally responsible practices.

According to Hamilton, the partnership is a success due to a similar partnership with another nation the Texas National Guard has had since the early ‘90s.

"The SPP was started at the end of the Cold War with the intent to bring former Warsaw Pact nations into NATO. Those showing a desire reached out; and in our case Czech Republic did and Texas was assigned to it," Hamilton said. "Texas was one of the first states to be part of the SPP and we have become very effective since; therefore there were no growing pains with the Chilean partnership."

Hamilton is optimistic about where the partnership is going and how the TXNG and Chile can help each other grow and participate in larger exchanges.

"Because our relationship is as mature as it is and the Chileans are as advanced as they are, U.S. Southern Command has asked us to begin helping Chile pursue leadership roles within the region and in exercises with U.S. Army South and other countries," Hamilton said. "They've done that and we want to continue supporting them in those roles."

Col. Tim Hodge, chief of Security Cooperation Division at U.S. Army South, attended the meeting as an observer to see how the relationship and future subject matter expert exchanges can help his command achieve similar goals with the South American nation. Hodge believes the TXNG is a key partner not only with Chile, but with U.S. Army South as well.

"U.S. Army South has worked with the TXNG ever since we moved to San Antonio, over eight years ago," Hodge said. "Throughout the years, Texas has helped us not only with Chile, but with other partner nations throughout our area of responsibility. Texas is our partner-of-choice whenever it comes to fielding engagements like this."

Hodges also believes these exchanges are key for the future of both countries' militaries.

"When a young sergeant or young captain comes to these exchanges they not only meet their counterparts and exchange technical knowledge, they develop friendships as well," Hodges added. "As they both rise through the ranks as senior enlisted and officers and they now have someone they can reach out to when needed and keep the relationships going."

Chilean Navy Capt. Francisco Abrego, North America and Asian Pacific Area Section Chief, International Operations Directorate for the Chilean Armed Forces Joint Staff and SPP coordinator for the Chileans, believes the face-to-face interaction the exchanges bring to the Texan/Chilean partnership is important.

"The network created by these exchanges is valuable, because now you know a face on the other side," Abrego said. "It's not just a phone number and a name, it's a friend and that makes things go smoother and faster."

This year's meeting included a visit to Chilean army, navy and air force bases located in the southern part of the country. There, Chilean component commanders briefed the TXNG delegation on their respective capabilities and structure.

"We visited the different organizations and this gave us insight into how they work," Hamilton said. "This helps us understand how we can better support each other in these exchanges."

According to the ASPPPM delegation new opportunities did come to mind.

"We noticed through these visits there were some exchanges we can absolutely do that we didn't plan for; some dealing with flood response," Hamilton added. "Chile has plans in place to deal with tsunamis. And even though we don't deal with tsunami type floods, we still have flooding due to storm surges or hurricanes, so we're going to plan exchanges to share our procedures and experiences, so that we can both be better prepared."

This years' meeting wrapped up with both countries signing an agreement with more than 40 exchanges planned for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

"We have come away from this meeting with a robust plan in place for both countries." Abrego said. "The Texan culture is just like the Chilean culture, which is why it's so easy to work with them; and because of that,