CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti - As part of the State Partnership Program (SPP), U.S. Army National Guard leaders Brig. Gen. Benjamin Adams III, Kentucky deputy adjutant general, and Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden, Kentucky state command sergeant major, visited Nov. 14 with members of the Djibouti Armed Forces (FAD) at their military training center in Holhol, Djibouti.
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Benjamin Higginbotham, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) command senior enlisted leader, and other members of CJTF-HOA joined Adams and Munden as they met with FAD leaders to discuss working together and how CJTF-HOA could be an asset to the Kentucky SPP.
The SPP is a joint Department of Defense security cooperation program managed by the National Guard Bureau in support of combatant commanders' objectives and ambassadors' integrated country strategies. Through the program, a state's National Guard is partnered with a country to promote enduring, mutually-beneficial security relationships.
Since the establishment of the Kentucky and Djibouti partnership in June 2015, Adams has visited Djibouti every three or four months.
"It's really (about) the consistency to show the Djiboutian citizens and the military that Kentucky is here for an enduring relationship and partnership," Adams said.
Though Adams' visit is one of the key engagement approaches of the SPP to sow faith and goodwill between the partners, the logistics of having to travel so far to work together can create a problem when planning training and other engagements.
However, Kentucky and Djibouti have found themselves in a unique situation in that they have CJTF-HOA to help facilitate engagements.
"As an operational headquarters on the only permanent U.S. base on the continent, we are close to our Djiboutian hosts and uniquely positioned to consult, collaborate, and train with the Djiboutian military on a regular basis," Higginbotham said. "We partner with the Kentucky State Partnership Program to identify activities and engagements that we can assist with in meeting (U.S. Africa Command) and U.S. Embassy (Djibouti) security cooperation objectives."
During a visit with the FAD in July 2017, the Kentucky National Guard invited Higginbotham out to the FAD academy in Holhol.
"We met the enlisted instructor staff and discussed (noncommissioned officer) development," Higginbotham said. "After that meeting, I felt it would be a great opportunity to supplement the State Partnership Program by offering the Djiboutian instructors slots to our Joint Corporals Course we host here at CJTF-HOA."
Two Djiboutian instructors attended the October 2017 class, and Higginbotham lauds it as a success.
"They were put through the entire curriculum and saw firsthand the emphasis that the U.S. puts on enlisted professional military education (PME) and the development of future leaders," Higginbotham said. "It was a cooperative and mutually beneficial engagement that served as a forum to share best practices."
Higginbotham said the experience not only strengthened the relationship with the FAD, it also confirmed the military professionalism and discipline of both forces. As such, the CJTF-HOA, the Kentucky National Guard, and the FAD continue to discuss and plan future training and learning engagements.
Although the CJTF-HOA plans to supplement this partnership and facilitate some of the engagements, the Kentucky National Guard will still take lead on it as they will be key in giving the Djiboutians some continuity.
"It's not that it's a bad thing here at (Camp Lemonnier), but (the personnel are) rotational," Adams continued. "The State Partnership is an enduring program that's been with the (National Guard Bureau) for almost 25 years now."
With many Guard members staying with their units for long periods of time - some their entire careers - the continuity they offer the program and their partners can be a crucial part of these partnerships.
"They build trust and confidence when they continually see the same people," Adams said. "It's not something (Djiboutians) have been exposed to for a long time."
One aspect Adams likes about the SPP is that it really shows how the National Guard Bureau can bring in both the military and civilian sides of a partnership.
Because nearly 85 percent of Guardsmen have full-time jobs outside of the military, they are able to bring the associated skills -- such as carpentry, plumbing, welding, and engineering -- to their partners as well as the professionalism of the U.S. military, Adams said.
While the partnership can bring much to the both the Kentucky National Guard and the FAD, it has already brought a spark to the CJTF-HOA.
"There are currently 13 state partnerships in AFRICOM, and two of those are in our area of responsibility (AOR)," Higginbotham said. "Our work with the Kentucky National Guard has educated us on the State Partnership Program and generated momentum and ideas on how we can work with the other countries in our AOR."