CARTHAGE, Tunisia – The National Guard's most senior general walked among the rows of headstones, pausing to reflect on the sacrifices made by some of the 2,833 service members buried here and the 3,724 missing who are memorialized.
More than 275 of the troops for whom the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial is their final resting place were National Guard members.
"Their sacrifices are yet another reminder of the National Guard's centuries of contribution to the warfight," said Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau. "They also are a silent testament to the National Guard's long history with the Republic of Tunisia and Africa."
In World War II, the National Guard's 34th Infantry Division fought to capture the North African country's capital, Tunis. Many of the graves here hold members of the 34th ID.
Today, Tunisia is paired with the Wyoming National Guard in the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program. Hokanson's choice to include a two-day stop in Tunisia as part of the first overseas travel of his assignment speaks volumes about the strength of the SPP security cooperation relationship.
"I'm here to underscore the importance of our longstanding partnership and to discuss opportunities to strengthen it," Hokanson said. "For almost two decades, this partnership has helped make our countries more secure and advanced the safety of both Tunisians and Americans."
The relationship is based on common interests and mutual respect.
Examples of how partnerships like this strengthen both countries:
- The U.S. and Tunisia share border challenges. Though the geography is different, the problems are remarkably similar, which allows the partners to share experiences and best practices.
- The partners have common interests in counterterrorism: Members of violent extremist organizations who threaten Tunisia also have the potential to threaten U.S. interests.
- Both the National Guard and the Tunisian military played key roles in their nations' COVID-19 pandemic responses. Information sharing helps both partners.
"One of the greatest advantages of a partnership is we both learn from each other, and it makes both of us better," Hokanson said.
Hokanson met with senior Tunisian defense and military leaders and U.S. officials, including U.S. Ambassador Donald Blome.
"Enhancing the National Guard's readiness and interoperability and strengthening our solidarity and unity with allies and partners are among my top priorities," Hokanson told the ambassador.
Meeting with Ibrahim Bartagi, Tunisia's national defense minister, Hokanson said, "The National Guard is proud to partner with Tunisia, a major non-NATO ally, to help secure our countries, safeguard our peoples and maintain shared democratic values."
The CNGB paid his respects at the graves of American service members on Wednesday, including those of the National Guard troops.
Hokanson and his wife, Kelly, laid a wreath from the National Guard Bureau in honor of all Americans buried or memorialized here. Joined by Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, the National Guard's most senior enlisted member, the couple walked between graves, pausing to learn details about some of the service members interred here.
The SPP helps the U.S. enhance strategic partnerships and build partnership capacity, promote readiness and deepen interoperability. SPP engagements are executed through U.S. geographic combatant commanders' theater strategies and are aligned with U.S. Embassy country priorities. The National Guard Bureau manages and administers the joint Department of Defense cooperation program.
Through the Wyoming National Guard, Tunisia has access to the capabilities of the entire National Guard, both Army and Air, in all 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia.
Cooperation between Tunisia and Wyoming has included exchanges related to aviation, border security, noncommissioned officer development, infantry tactics, counterterrorism and sharing best practices from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tunisian Army routinely takes part in African Lion, the largest military exercise in Africa, jointly sponsored by U.S. Africa Command and the Moroccan Armed Forces, and in rotations at the U.S. Army's Joint Readiness Training Center Fort Polk, Louisiana. The Tunisian Air Force supports AFRICOM strategic airlift missions and UN peacekeeping missions.
The first agreement for friendship and trade between Tunisia and the United States was signed in 1799, and the U.S. was the first great power to recognize Tunisia's sovereignty.
Hokanson is the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He ensures the 443,000 National Guard Soldiers and Airmen who serve as the primary combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force are accessible, capable and ready to support our combatant commanders overseas and our communities here at home.