NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Arkansas National Guard and its State Partnership Program counterpart, Guatemala, resumed face-to-face exchanges May 12-15 after a year of virtual exchanges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Led by Maj. Gen. Walfre Omar Carranza Espana, the Guatemalan chief of defense, the six-person delegation toured Arkansas National Guard facilities at Robinson Maneuver Training Center in North Little Rock and the 189th Airlift Wing at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville.
The group received briefings about the Arkansas National Guard, the 233rd Regional Training Institute, 188th Wing operations, 189th Airlift Wing operations, 39th Infantry Brigade Combat Team operations, and a joint briefing conducted by the director of military support and Arkansas Division of Emergency Management. The Guatemalan delegation also briefed senior leaders of the Arkansas National Guard.
The visit was the general’s first since assuming his current position.
“It was a very fruitful visit that will continue to strengthen our partnership with the Arkansas National Guard for years to come,” the general said. “In the name of Guatemala, I want to thank Maj. Gen. Kendall Penn and the Arkansas team for a great visit.”
Arkansas’ adjutant general echoed those sentiments.
"Arkansas and Guatemala have been partners under the State Partnership Program for almost 20 years," he said. "The program has provided both organizations the ability to share tactics, techniques and procedures, and lessons learned. Our meeting this week will help us move forward and continues the good working relationship built by Guardsmen and Guatemalan military members over the years."
The National Guard Bureau administers SPP, and it’s guided by State Department foreign policy goals. Arkansas and Guatemala were paired in 2002 and have a rich history of mutually beneficial military and cultural exchanges.
The SPP has been building relationships for more than 25 years and now includes 82 partnerships with 89 nations.
“The Arkansas National Guard stands ready to be part of the whole-of-government approach to security cooperation efforts in Guatemala by the U.S embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation,” said Maj. Alejandro Saenz, Arkansas National Guard State Partnership Program director. “We appreciate the support from the embassy’s OSC because they’re always supporting the Arkansas-Guatemala partnership in their daily interactions with senior Guatemalan leaders.”
The pandemic squashed most face-to-face meetings between the two countries over the past year.
“It was a whole new ball game for the Guatemalans and us,” the major said.
To keep growing the relationship, they employed online options last year, which proved to be very effective.
“Virtual engagements will not go away,” he said. “We will leverage virtual events to help shape and make face-to-face events more beneficial to both best utilizing our resources.”
Arkansas Army and Air Guardsmen from the 39th IBCT and 188th Wing visited Guatemala for four days last month to share best practices with the Guatemalans on how to employ the RQ-11 Raven unmanned aerial vehicle, and how American forces analyze imagery from similar platforms.
Guatemala employs the low-altitude reconnaissance craft for drug interdiction missions to identify where cartels are growing fields of poppy plants that become heroin and coca plants that become cocaine.