PARAMARIBO, Suriname - Senior leaders from the South Dakota Governor's Office and the National Guard visited the Republic of Suriname, South Dakota's State Partnership Program nation on Nov. 25-26.
The visit to the South American country was an opportunity to reinforce the existing partnership between the South Dakota National Guard and Suriname military.
Lt. Gov. Matt Michels and Maj. Gen. Tim Reisch, the adjutant general of the SDNG, met with U.S. Ambassador to Suriname Jay N. Anania and Suriname Minister of Defense Lamuré Latour to collaborate on ideas for working together and to provide training opportunities for both organizations. They also had the opportunity to greet Suriname President Dési Bouterse during Suriname's National Day celebration.
"The South Dakota and Suriname partnership has been a very positive relationship. This not only includes joint military activities but also humanitarian efforts throughout the years," said Ambassador Anania during the visit. "Meeting with key leaders helps to reinforce the importance of the partnership and to continue our goals for the program."
"The relationship has been long-standing and we have exchanged information and subject matter experts for the benefit of all involved," said Lt. Gov. Michels of the partnership.
The South Dakota and Suriname partnership was formally established in August of 2006. Since then, numerous exchanges have taken place between South Dakota and Suriname to share experiences and best practices in a variety of military training.
"South Dakota's partnership with Suriname has become widely known as one of the most active and enduring partnerships of any state or territory," said Reisch. "In spite of changes in civil or military leadership, the partnership has continued to strengthen year after year."
Ambassador Anania commented on the value of Guard members participating in Operation Beyond the Horizon in Suriname in 2008, a humanitarian mission to provide health services and repair clinics, as well as Suriname soldiers coming to South Dakota to observe crisis operations and management during the 2011 Missouri River flood.
"As we move forward with the partnership, I believe we want to build upon the exchanges we have had," said Anania. "The fact that we've had such a strong partnership will bolster new opportunities for training and learning."
"We want to continue to develop exchanges that benefit both countries," added Reisch. "Increasing the number of personnel that we can involve in future exchanges will serve to enhance the overall value for both partners."
The National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program provides unique capacity-building capabilities to combatant commanders through partnerships between U.S. states and foreign countries. The program helps to support U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations through military, social, political and economic conduits at the local, state and national level.
"I think we get more out of these types of programs than we give," said Michels. "I look at the South Dakota National Guard individuals who have been involved down here and have developed very long relationships. These relationships transcend governments, ambassadors, or anyone who is rotating through. This program is a rare constant.
"It has been proven so and is recognized by the State Department. The ambassador and I talked a couple of different times and he has said in national interviews that this is the one program that has staying power."
Michels and Reisch also had an opportunity to watch South Dakota National Guard female Soldiers partake in Suriname's National Day parade, where a color guard detail carried U.S. and S.D. flags and marched alongside Suriname's armed forces and civil support agencies.
The presence of South Dakota's first ever color guard in the national day parade was highlighted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a Nov. 25 State Dept. press release stating, "the participation of a Suriname-South Dakota National Guard color guard in this year's National Day festivities underscores the ties of friendship between the people of Suriname and the United States."
Michels also echoed Secretary Kerry's sentiment of the color guard.
"When our women were leading our color guard I choked up, because they were inspirational," he said. "The real weight of the diplomatic spear in a lot of areas relevant to the military relationship is the South Dakota National Guard and this partnership program.
"Things change, budgets change, governments change, but in some way the State Partnership Program to assist in terms of diplomatic work, regional security and more importantly developing relationships will last a long time. I couldn't be more proud of our Army and Air National Guard."