SANDSTON, Va. - A small group of Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen from the Virginia National Guard met with leaders of the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense and Committee for Emergency Situations in Dushanbe to discuss disaster preparedness and military response to a domestic natural disaster earlier this year.
The six Guard members were in the capital city visiting training facilities and examining terrain conditions around the city as part of the commonwealth's State Partnership Program with the Central Asian country.
"The intent of the SPP is to build capabilities in partner nations, as well as develop long-term relationships to foster stability and military professionalism," said Lt. Col. Matthew Ritchie, director of the Virginia SPP. "We determined that the Tajik government has a higher level of readiness for disaster preparedness than we had expected."
During their stay, the Virginians also met with the Peacekeeping Operations, or PKO Battalion, one of the top units in the Tajik Army.
"Responsiveness to domestic emergencies is a hallmark of modern, professional military services," said Ritchie. "This sort of mission further cements the relationship of a military force to the civilian population that it serves.
"After consultation with the Tajik leadership and the U.S. Embassy, the Virginia National Guard will redirect more efforts towards preparing the PKO Battalion for future service on a United Nations peacekeeping mission, perhaps in 2013."
The National Guard's State Partnership Program links states with foreign nations to promote and enhance bilateral relations. The program supports homeland defense by nurturing dependable collaborative partners for coalition operations in an era of persistent conflict.
"Virginia Guardsmen gain experience and insight working with our allies. We see how other nations respond to demands under different circumstances than we face at home," he said. "Therefore, our personnel gain a higher level of sophistication when facing new challenges."
With the emergence of the National Guard as an operational force, the SPP mission keeps a state's National Guard relevant from a geo-strategic perspective, according to Col. Steven Scott, director of joint plans and policy.
achieving SPP objectives, the Guard is fulfilling a key portion of a combatant command commander's Theater Security Cooperation Plan - that of military-to-military relationships with member nations in their geographic area of responsibility.
"Virginia's Soldiers and Airmen who participate in SPP deployments enhance their professional, leadership and cultural development, and - as deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan start to wind down - involvement in SPP will maintain and/or enhance their expeditionary mindset," Scott said.
The program's goals reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard to interact with both the active and reserve forces of foreign nations, interagency partners and international non-governmental organizations, emphasizing the National Guard's unique state and federal characteristics.
Program partners engage in a broad range of security cooperation activities to include homeland defense/security, disaster response/mitigation, consequence/crisis management, interagency cooperation, border/port/aviation security, combat medical, fellowship-style internships and bilateral familiarization events that lead to training and exercise opportunities.
The Virginia Guard members visited Tajikistan June 13 to 19.