RALEIGH, N.C. - Since its inception in 1996, when the North Carolina National Guard first initiated its State Partnership Program (SPP) in Moldova, North Carolina has emphasized creating and maintaining valuable and enduring relationships through this program.
In years past, the N.C. Guard has been an influential and useful tool in SPP. This year has been no different, as their state partners, the countries of Botswana, located in southern Africa, and Moldova, in eastern Europe, have participated in programs in the areas of civilian-to-civilian, business-to-business and military-to-military collaborations.
"We have doubled our engagements since 2012," said Army Maj. Clay Jackson, SPP coordinator for the North Carolina National Guard. "Our engagements this year have contributed to grow our JIIM (Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental and Multinational) collaborations with our partners."
In all, the N.C. Guard participated in 40 engagements this training year (19 in Moldova and 21 in Botswana). Missions ranged from humanitarian support and education initiatives to research, technology and entrepreneurial development. These missions were performed while maintaining close military unit relationships between nations.
According to Jackson, the NCNG's SPP has had a strong partnership with Moldova and with Botswana.
The affiliation, in his eyes, has significantly enhanced the NCNG's current mission: to remain ready, responsive, reliable and relevant on the global stage from a diplomatic perspective.
This year, Moldova was involved in the Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program. HMA, funded and coordinated by the U.S. State Department, is a major project that brought together Moldovan and NCNG ordnance experts.
The program provided collaboration and training with explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) assets in the NCNG and Moldova in order to improve the country's capacity and capability to dispose of remnant unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from World War II and the Transnistria Conflict. HMA also provided a way for the two organizations to work closely with Moldova's medical services and first responders on best practices for initial aid to those injured by UXOs.
In addition to HMA this year, the NCNG also refined and focused ongoing efforts with the Moldovan Army's medical services by successfully concluding several years of dental exchanges and collaborating on a new civilian nurse exchange program.
The NCNG and Moldova have continued to work together in modernizing Moldova's medical services capability, with an ultimate goal for the Moldovan Army to be capable of fielding a deployable NATO Level I medical facility (much like our military's battalion-level aid station).
One of the NCNG's major subordinate commands, the 60th Troop Command, and the NCNG State Surgeon's Office were the primary facilitators to collaborate with those civilian medical professionals and services. These initiatives ensure Moldovan medical services have a firm foundation of knowledge and resources to support the country's citizens.
This year was also the first time that the NCNG lead the Army Cadet Command's ROTC Cultural Understanding and Language Program to Moldova. The program, which included four cadre and 29 ROTC students, immersed the cadets into the Moldovan culture and language over a three-week period.
Finally, the NCNG worked with Moldovan Military Personnel management to identify and refine their current personnel capabilities and analyze their recruiting practices for these types of jobs.
Although the NCNG –Botswana partnership is newer, the value of the partnership is equally as strong. In an unexpected move, the Government of Botswana set a precedent by funding four separate engagements with North Carolina business, government, wildlife and military personnel this year.
The first visit was the Botswana Innovation Hub, an emerging tech center in the capital of Botswana. The group turned to North Carolina to seek out best practices used between the Research Triangle Park, local universities and private business.
The visit helped them to understand how private research and development companies widen business and education relationships with local universities in order to increase research and development of new technologies.
The Botswana Defence Force's (BDF) Animal Park, a training center for BDF soldiers in wildlife behaviors, also sent their senior animal handler to the N.C. state zoo in Asheboro to see how they provide and care for exotic animals, while also examining how the park operates and is managed financially.
The NCNG also welcomed the Botswana minister of defence, justice and security, the Botswana defence commander and the commissioner of the Botswana Police Services to Raleigh, N.C., in June.
The group was on a U.S. visit and made the conscious decision to visit N.C. to examine emergency response operations. High on their list was to understand the interagency aspect of how the state of North Carolina executes emergency response operations and examine how the different civilian and military agencies coordinate for support in disaster situations.
In September, NCNG chaplains hosted the BDF chief of chaplains and deputy administrative officer to assist them in understanding U.S. military chaplain recruiting and operations, as well as their roles and responsibilities in which they serve their military communities.
The N.C. chaplains escorted their Botswanian counterparts to the Chaplain School at Fort Jackson, S.C., and also attended a 9/11 ceremony with chaplains and military members at Fort Bragg, N.C.
The significance of the event was the unprecedented level of partnership on behalf of Botswana. Their actions demonstrated a true commitment by the country to appreciate the value they see in the relationship with N.C.
According to Jackson, the U.S. Embassy in Botswana, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and U.S. Army Africa have been crucial in promoting this increased activity and these trips attest to the value SPP adds to the U.S. objectives in security cooperation.
As mobilizations overseas continue to trend downward (230 currently deployed overseas from both N.C. Army and Air National Guard – the lowest deployment numbers in the last 12 years), the NCNG continues to examine ways in which they can continue to sustain their current readiness and training proficiencies by using their SPP.
Over the last decade, the NCNG has gained considerable institutional knowledge in deploying units overseas. In the future, the N.C. Guard hopes to sustain this knowledge by training in Moldova and Botswana for the betterment of both the NCNG and their partner militaries.
SPP provides a unique possibility to develop additional opportunities to send units overseas, conduct unit-specific training and also gives the N.C. Guard the ability to work jointly with their partners on a variety of missions.
Jackson said the NCNG's SPP is working diligently with the U.S. State Department, AFRICOM and other agencies to create opportunities between the NCNG and their SPP partners. Future engagements are largely predicated upon funding and purpose, so the coordination with the State Department and others is critical in order to ensure the NCNG program stays robust.
"It's our intent to branch out and work with more of our U.S. agencies in order to foster our enduring relationships with our SPP partners," said Jackson.
Jackson also said that 2014 has the potential to add an additional 20 engagements, which will further increase the N.C. Guard's relevance in support of U.S. government programs in their partner countries.
Until then, the N.C. Guard will continue to foster enduring relationships with their SPP partners in order to support U.S. objectives, as well as future development and growth with its friends.