MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin National Guard's new partnership with Papua New Guinea as part of the State Partnership Program has continued to blossom, despite a global pandemic and long travel distances.
The partners have made significant progress in recent months, with a Wisconsin National Guard delegation conducting its first visit to Papua New Guinea and Wisconsin's adjutant general traveling to Hawaii for a series of meetings and conferences with his counterparts from Papua New Guinea and other military leaders in the region.
Over five weeks in July and August, the first in-person senior leader engagement between the Wisconsin National Guard and the Papua New Guinea Defense Force took place.
During the trip, Col. Raymond Ripberger, the Wisconsin Army National Guard's deputy chief of staff for operations and training, Lt. Col. Derrek Schultheiss, State Partnership Program director, Maj. Steven Harteau, deputy state training officer, and Command Sgt. Maj. John Dietzler, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team command sergeant major, discussed the five-year plan, shared information with military allies and key stakeholders in the region, and aligned strategic objectives.
They toured the Basilisk Naval Base, the Papua New Guinea Defense Force's (PNGDF) engineer base, and multiple barracks locations. Additionally, the leaders visited the Papua New Guinea National Museum and the Kokoda Trail.
"We were able to conduct multiple leader engagements with PNGDF directors and establish excellent personal relationships," Schultheiss said.
Harteau agreed and noted the relationships the team built with their new friends in Papua New Guinea were the most meaningful part of the trip.
"The PNGDF leaders and their staffs were extraordinarily gracious hosts," Harteau said. "During the engagement, we established an excellent foundation for future training opportunities that will mutually benefit the PNGDF and the WIARNG. Even more special were the personal connections we made with our counterparts and meeting their families."
Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin's adjutant general, also had a successful trip of his own when he traveled to Hawaii in September to meet with Maj. Gen. Gilbert Toropo, the PNGDF chief of defense, at the U.S. Commander's Conference and Indo-Pacific Armies Chief's Conference.
This was the first visit by the adjutant general since the partnership began just over a year ago, and it represented an excellent opportunity to conduct a face-to-face key leader engagement with Papua New Guinea's senior defense official. Knapp said the visit was very beneficial and met all his objectives.
"Our Wisconsin National Guard is a tremendously professional force, and we look forward to many years of engagement with Papua New Guinea and the lessons and experiences we can exchange to benefit both their military forces and our own National Guard troops," he said.
The recent visits from both the adjutant general and the Wisconsin National Guard delegation are the latest in a string of other engagements with Papua New Guinea. Since the partnership began, the Wisconsin National Guard and PNGDF have conducted several virtual engagements, including one focused on the PNGDF's women, peace and security initiatives. In addition, Wisconsin Army National Guard Capt. Chris Meza spent six months as part of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command's Task Force Oceania in Papua New Guinea, building relationships with the people there and with officials with the United States Indo-Pacific Command.
The Wisconsin National Guard has a long history with Papua New Guinea. During World War II, the 32nd "Red Arrow" Infantry Division, which consisted of all of the Wisconsin National Guard and some of the Michigan National Guard, engaged in intense fighting against the Japanese through multiple campaigns in Papua New Guinea. Three Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for their actions in New Guinea. The Red Arrow would go on to spend 654 days in combat during World War II – more than any other division in the war.
It's now come full circle with the State Partnership Program, which links individual states with armed forces of partner nations around the world to forge lasting cooperation, friendship and mutually beneficial relationships.
Wisconsin also has a partnership with Nicaragua, which began in 2003.