LATHAM, NY - Maj. Gen. Roy Andersen, chief of South African National Defence Force Reserves, wanted to exchange ideas with another really professional organization; so he brought his staff to visit the New York National Guard.
"We are looking to take away the lessons you have learned, so we do not have to relearn them, so we can do things better, and maybe we can identify a few areas where we think we do it better," Andersen said.
The six-officer delegation was particularly interested in learning about the New York National Guard's family support programs and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve program, Andersen said.
"We know these are good and they work," he explained.
The team – which included a South African vice admiral and general officers from the Air Force and Army Reserve, as well as the South African Military Health Service, a separate branch of the South African military – were also interested in National Guard medical readiness procedures.
The National Guard's health assessment process is much more proactive than the South African Reserves employ, he said.
The team visited state headquarters on the day a Soldiers Readiness Check was underway for the Joint Force Headquarters Detachment and got a chance to inspect the process. They were very impressed with the mobile dental clinic that was fixing Soldiers problems on the spot, Andersen said.
The South African National Defense Force and the New York National Guard have had a relationship since the two were joined through the National Guard's State Partnership Program in 2005.
The SPP sets up exchanges between the South African military and the National Guard to foster better understanding through a series of bilateral exchanges.
There is a lot of "energy" in the relationship between the New York National Guard and the South African military, said Army Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the adjutant general of New York.
As recently as September, New York sent members of the 106th Rescue Wing to train with their South African counterparts.
Bilateral visits are an important part of the relationship process, said Army Brig. Gen. Isaac Osborne, deputy adjutant general of Tennessee and deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa. It gives both parties an opportunity to get to know each other better.
While the New York Army and Air National Guard, with just over 16,000 members, are about the same size as the South African Army, Air Force, and Naval reserves, the level of responsibility that Andersen and his team have is much greater, Murphy pointed out.
He and his staff don't have to deal with the issues of national policy and politics that Andersen must cope with, Murphy explained.
The three-day visit started on Dec. 4 with briefings on subjects of interest to the South Africans: family readiness programs, efforts to keep employers supportive, New York National Guard missions, and reintegration programs.
On Dec. 5, the team visited Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia, New York. The base is home to the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard, the only wing in the United States military which flies C-130 equipped with skies to land on snow or ice.
On Dec. 6 the South Africans visited the New York National Guard's standing security force in New York City, Joint Task Force Empire Shield.
The team inspected the quarters of the 24th Civil Support Team; a unit specially trained to identify chemical, biological and radiological weapons, and also checked in on Soldiers and Airmen providing security at transportation hubs on Manhattan.
The South Africans also learned of the capabilities of New York's Naval Militia, which works with the United States Coast Guard in New York Harbor.
Both the New York National Guard and South African National Defense Force Reserves face similar challenges, Andersen pointed out.
Just as New York deploys troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, South African reservists are serving in peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Burundi. South African reservists also do border duty along the nation's border with Zimbabwe to control illegal immigration, just as New York National Guard forces have served along the Mexican border.
There are differences, though.
South African reservists must serve two years on active duty, including one complete deployment, before going into reserve status. This can make it tough to recruit, Andersen explained.
And many of the South African Reserve members do not have jobs. Finding them civilian work is an important mission for his force, said Andersen, who is chairman of several corporate boards in civilian life.
And the Air Force Reserve includes a special component of members who bring their own aircraft with them when they serve, more like the American Civil Air Patrol than the Air National Guard or Air Force Reserves.