OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma National Guard leaders and an Azerbaijan delegation gathered at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their partnership under the State Partnership Program.
“Over the last 20 years, Oklahoma has been proud and remains proud to serve next to you and work with you (Azerbaijan),” said Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, adjutant general for Oklahoma.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who also attended the celebration dinner, cited his family’s visit to Azerbaijan more than a year ago.
“One thing that I really appreciated about the Azerbaijani people is their values,” Stitt said. “It was all about family; it was all about taking care of our kids and giving better opportunities for them. The liberty and the freedoms that we talked about are really what we talk about here in the United States.”
The Azerbaijani delegation’s three-day visit included a tour of The Hamm Institute for American Energy at Oklahoma State University.
During a tour of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the delegation also learned about Western history, art and culture.
Before departing the state, the delegation toured the 137th Special Operations Wing in Oklahoma City. They met with senior leaders and discussed unit capabilities, toured the civil engineer facilities, fire department and aeromedical unit, and were briefed on the Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance mission set.
The Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program began in 1991. Guided by State Department foreign policy goals, the program includes 87 partnerships with 95 nations.
Oklahoma and Azerbaijan paired in 2002, with economic similarities in energy, agriculture, aviation and medical care and public health.
“Almost exactly 20 years ago, I came to the state of Oklahoma as a junior diplomat when this State Partnership Program started,” said Ambassador Khazar Ibrahim, Azeri ambassador to the United States. “I would never have imagined that we would expand this cooperation to economy, energy, culture, and more importantly, people to people.”
In the past two decades, there have been multiple training events between the Oklahoma National Guard and Azerbaijan in both countries. In just the past five months, the partners have exchanged expertise in medical care, staff training and cyber defense, said Lt. Col. Tonia Toben, incoming State Partnership Program manager.
“Of course, those are a few very brief examples of two decades of multiple training and diplomatic events,” Toben said. “It is also notable that Oklahoma and Azerbaijan share a commitment to peace, prosperity, security and stability. Azerbaijan’s leadership within the region on energy diversification, agricultural investment and development opportunities make them a great friend and partner to Oklahoma and the United States of America.”
The partnership continues to strengthen through relationships with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, U.S. Embassy, U.S. European Command, and civilian agencies.