JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - A historic and meaningful bond was strengthened once again this spring, as the Missouri National Guard played host to public forces personnel from Panama.
Since 1996, the Missouri National Guard has continued to partner with the country of Panama, as part of the State Partnership Program, to conduct subject matter expert exchanges with this Central American ally.
Officials from Missouri's brother country have visited for over two decades, but this time around, Panamanian officials were able to get knowledge from subject matter experts on natural disaster response, as part of the Missouri National Guard's training exercise, "Vibrant Response," which centered around readiness when natural disasters strike.
Preparing for disaster response in Missouri requires all stakeholders be in sync to mitigate the severity of disaster aftermath and to provide the most immediate response, said Lt. Col. Rebecca Segovia, the director of Missouri's State Partnership Program.
"Here in Missouri, the Joint Operations Center provides the nexus for pulling all the Missouri National Guard resources together to work in concert with all the other civilian agencies that have the lead during state disasters," said Segovia. "When it comes to natural disasters, Panama and Missouri have flooding and earthquakes in common, and this event presented Panama leadership an overview of how Missouri reacts when disaster strikes."
The Panamanian partners received information tours and saw how Missouri's military units and civilian organizations in St. Louis, Jefferson City and Fort Leonard Wood respond to disasters.
The group also visited the 70th Troop Command's Homeland Response Team, 735th Field Service Company Search and Extraction, and the 3175th Chemical Company in St. Louis.
The group then traveled to Jefferson City for several days to tour the 7th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and the State Emergency Management Agency.
While at the Ike Skelton Training Site, they received a briefing in the Joint Operations Center with a welcome from the Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Steve Danner.
Capt. Richard Sambolin, a team member of the State Partnership Program, led a tour of the 7th Civil Support Team, which featured vehicles used in emergency situations that allow all branches to effectively communicate and handle any situation thrown their way.
"We're offering some capabilities we have for state emergency situations, teaching them about our procedures and operations," Sambolin said. "We purposely coordinated the event to coincide with the Vibrant Response exercise so the Panamanians were able to see some of this stuff first hand and get real experience."
Sambolin went on to talk about the importance of the partnership between Panamanian Public Forces and the Missouri National Guard.
"The embassy down in Panama has placed a huge emphasis on state partnership, meaning us, and we have had a great relationship over the last ten years or so," he said. "We have continued to place a huge emphasis on humanitarian and natural disaster aid, and we have been able to exchange best practices and experiences."
They received a briefing from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, who also play a major role in state emergency operations and have been integral to providing various tours and presentations on emergency management subjects to Panama in support of State Partnership Program for the past five years. The most recent subject was the Emergency Vehicle Operation Course, which was aimed at teaching highway emergency management response techniques as well as communication operations for all parties involved.
The Panama partners concluded their seven-day trip with a visit to 35th Engineer Brigade and the 140th Regional Training Institute in Fort Leonard Wood, and a briefing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Col. Luis Rodriguez, representing the Panamanian Border Patrol, talked about his role in Panama, and how critical this particular training was to the success of his country's mission.
"Today we came to see equipment and operations, and now we will be able to go back and put everything we learned and now put it in place," Rodriguez said. "It was a great experience."
Also on the trip was Omar Ahmed-Mondol, who serves as a liaison officer for all branches of the public forces with the Panama Canal, overseeing counternarcotic operations along the border into South America.
He spoke of the importance of cross-department efforts when dealing with a crisis.
"Whenever assistance is needed, we need to be able to work together, so for me, I try to keep us all working together," said Ahmed-Mondol.
All in all, it was a successful experience for the Panamanian officials as well as the Missouri Guardsmen and other agencies involved.
"We are getting more knowledge to be able to improve our country's forces, so we can respond quickly," Ahmed-Mondol said.
The State Partnership Program events are valuable in maintaining and building on the relationship with our partner country, said Segovia.
"I know they will incorporate some of our practices in Panama," she said. "And we look forward to celebrating our 20-year anniversary in 2016."