MILWAUKEE - Nearly six years after its inception, the partnership between the Wisconsin National Guard and the state of Nicaragua continues to prosper.
"They have built confidence with their public," said Brig. Gen. Don Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, speaking of the Nicaraguan military. "When there is a problem, they step up and help the community "” much like the Guard does here in Wisconsin."
Dunbar and other Wisconsin Guard officials traveled to Nicaragua in early December to meet with Nicaraguan civilian and military leaders and get acquainted with their soldiers and airmen.
"The people there know they can trust their ejercito. They have enormous standing in the country of Nicaragua and it's making a difference," Dunbar said.
The National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP) program began in the 1990s as a way to assist Eastern European countries just emerging from the Iron Curtain. The program grew later in the decade by adding Central American nations affected by Hurricanes George and Mitch.
The SPP matches state Guard units with national militaries to help countries modernize their forces, provide an example of civilian control of the military, and promote civil-military relationships. It also fosters civilian ties between local business and government officials.
The Wisconsin National Guard partnered with Nicaragua in 2003, but the two states have a relationship that goes back more than 40 years.
Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas, Inc., began "people-to-people exchanges" in 1964 and helped establish at least 22 sister-city relationships, an outgrowth of President Kennedy's "Alliance for Progress" initiative of the early 1960s.
Even before the formal partnership was established, Wisconsin Guard units were helping Nicaragua. In the aftermath of 1998's Hurricane Mitch, Wisconsin Guard units deployed for Joint Task Force Sebaco in 2000 and Joint Task Force Chontales in 2002 to build or rebuild schools and clinics in the country's rural mountainous areas.
"Wisconsin has established the model of the right way to conduct an SPP exchange," said Lt. Col. Michael Regan, commander of Southern Command's Military Group and the Department of Defense's representative in Nicaragua.
In the past six years, the Wisconsin National Guard and the Nicaraguanejercitohave held more than 40 exchanges of education, experiences, support and care. Of 21 partnerships in the U.S. Southern Command area of operations, only one has conducted more events than the Wisconsin-Nicaragua partnership, Regan said.
In 2008 alone, Wisconsin Guardmembers have traveled to Nicaragua to exchange expertise on maintenance of vehicles and equipment, share field artillery tactics and techniques, and marksmanship techniques. Nicaraguan officials also made several trips to Wisconsin to learn about public affairs and NCO education.
Wisconsin's 64th Troop Command sent 24 Soldiers to Nicaragua for three weeks in June for Peace Keeping Operation North, a multinational exercise incorporating civil and military officials from 22 nations.
About 32 Wisconsin Guardmembers also participated in the 2008 iteration of Medical Readiness Training Exercise, an annual medical exercise that provides medical care to more than 5,000 Nicaraguans and vaccinations to 1,000 animals.
"The Wisconsin-Nicaragua State Partnership Program is a true partnership of sharing knowledge between not only the armed forces, but also civilian organizations "” and all continue to benefit," said Maj. Eric Leckel, a Wisconsin SPP coordinator. "More important than the knowledge gained, is the relationships formed between Nicaragua and the soldiers and citizens of Wisconsin."