COLUMBIA, S.C. - Since its launch in 2012, when the South Carolina National Guard introduced its State Partnership Program (SPP) in the Republic of Colombia, South Carolina has focused on establishing long-term relationships where Colombia and South Carolina promote mutual interests and build lasting capabilities of both partners.
For nearly 30 days from October to November, the South Carolina National Guard had continual presence in the Republic of Colombia, building the capabilities of both partners. During this time, subject matter experts in light infantry, aviation maintenance, ground vehicle maintenance, and humanitarian assistance traveled south to meet with their counterparts.
The maintenance visit focused on meeting with the 1st and 2nd Logistics Brigades of the Colombian army in order to help them establish a maintenance culture. The team reviewed changes in the Colombian maintenance system, determined the focus for future engagements, and explored the possibility of Colombian maintenance personnel conducting extended visits to S.C. This was the fifth maintenance engagement between the two militaries.
"The overall result from this engagement has been extremely beneficial," said Chief Warrant Officer Lawrence Maner, S.C. National Guard Logistics Maintenance Manager. "Our relationship with the Colombian logistics team is strong and the exchange of information has been outstanding."
"It's amazing to tour the maintenance battalions, they've made great strides in the improvement of facilities, maintenance, and their ability to run a professional maintenance team," said Maj. Dave King, South Carolina National Guard SPP Director.
This trip also saw an infantry engagement for the first time. "Our ability to fight and operate in a jungle environment hasbeen degraded after years of deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. We've lost our jungle skills," said King. "They've been fighting in the jungle for 50 years and we've been fighting in the desert, it's a mutually beneficial partnership."
According to King, the Colombians have invested a lot in their army over the past 50 years of civil war. At this point they're starting to lead forward to what comes next, which is where the Engineers come into play. The Colombian post-war strategy involves a significant amount of humanitarian aid and disaster relief, which is an area where the S.C. National Guard excels.
"We have opportunities not only to learn technical capabilities from one another, but also to advance our relationship by hopefully conducting joint engineer projects in support of their humanitarian assistance program," said Col. Brad Owens, South CarolinaNational Guard director of operations, training and plans. "They have an exceptional program that we can benefit from."
"The capacity that the Colombians have is amazing," said King. "Every time we have an engagement they've improved by leaps and bounds. You can see that they were able to capture what we exchanged and they take it to the next step."
"We have a golden opportunity to build capabilities and capacity amongst one another and to improve our interoperability," added Owens. "We've seen some real success stories with our vehicle maintenance program, rotary wing support, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, F-16 operations, and infantry joint operations."
"The partnership is mutually beneficial," said Capt. Javier Yudice, South CarolinaNational Guard Bilateral Affairs Officer. "We have as much to learn from the Colombians as they do from us. Each SPP is unique and ours is geared towards the niche capacities of the S.C. National Guard of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, maintenance, and rule of law that specifically apply to the needs of the Colombians in developing their military."
The relationship between the S.C. National Guard and the Colombian army has enhanced the Guard's ability to stay ready, relevant, resilient and responsible on the global stage.
"These overseas operations build confidence and innovation amongst our leaders and keeps our professional force engaged overseas post Iraq and Afghanistan," said Owens.
The S.C. National Guard has had 18,000 deployments of Soldiers and Airmen since 2002. Late 2014 marks the first time all S.C. National Guard units are out of a combat zone since deployments began. As the deployments overseas decrease, the S.C. National Guard continues to survey ways in which they can utilize the SPP to sustain readiness and remain proficient in assigned skills.
"There is so much opportunity in this partnership with Colombia – the challenge is to focus down," said King. "Really focus down and stay on the lines of effort."