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NEWS | Dec. 8, 2008

New York Guard hosts South African partners

By Lt. Col. Richard Goldenberg, U.S. Army New York National Guard

LATHAM, N.Y. - Senior leaders from the New York National Guard recently discussed cooperative efforts in homeland security and trade with members of the South African Defense Forces at a day-long conference held here.

The two nations are part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program.

 "We are proud to host this group of some of South Africa's most distinguished leaders who, collectively, have brought about great positive change in the peace, prosperity and security of their nation," said New York Gov. David A. Paterson in written remarks to the conference.

Ms. Susan Shabangu, South Africa's deputy minister of Safety and Security, and Rear Adm. George Mphafi, South Africa's defense and military attaché, addressed more than 75 conference attendees to highlight the Guard's military to military relations with South Africa.

The two stressed the importance of cultural understanding as the key element of building stronger and more enduring partnerships between the South African Defense Forces and the New York National Guard.

"To make this partnership sustainable requires a better understanding of our two peoples and cultures," Shabangu said.

Shabangu holds a position that is comparable to the U.S. deputy secretary of Homeland Security and is responsible for the welfare and security of a South Africa's 44 million residents, nearly half a million square miles of land and some 1,738 miles of coastline.

"One of the biggest challenges our two nations face is terrorism," Shabangu said. "It is not only a threat here (in the U.S.), but a global threat to peace everywhere."

The South African Defense Forces have three fundamental missions, said Maj. Gen. Keith Mokoape, chief of staff for the South African Army Reserve. "First, we protect the integrity of our country. Second, we provide peacekeeping forces in Africa and third, we provide domestic support in times of crisis."

It is the role that the New York National Guard plays in the state's domestic operations that is most interesting to Mokoape. "It is important for the New York National Guard and the South African Defense Forces to focus on nonmilitary issues in their ongoing partnership," he said.

New York was paired with South Africa as part of the National Guard State Partnership Program in 2003. The program is designed to build military-to-military, military-to-civilian, and civil security cooperation links between participating countries and their National Guard state partner.

Since 2003 New York has conducted 18 military familiarization exchanges with the South African military, including visits to New York by South African military police officers and South African Air Force public affairs officers and medical personnel.

"Our two governments certainly have a growing history of mutual respect and substantive cooperative exchange," Paterson said in his welcome letter from Albany to the group.

New York has sent military chaplains, surgeons, lawyers, aviation personnel and combat infantry veteran weapons experts to South Africa to share their expertise and training models. 

This year, pararescuemen from the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing worked with the National Sea Rescue Institute of South Africa in Cape Town, the first military-to-civilian partnership event in the five-year-old program.

The National Guard State Partnership Program was established in 1993 in response to the radically changed political-military situation following the collapse of Communism and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Today, 43 U.S. states, two territories, and the District of Columbia are partnered with 51 countries around the world. The New York State partnership with South Africa is one of the leading engagements in sub-Sahara Africa for U.S. Africa Command.