NEWS | Oct. 20, 2015

National Guard State Partnership Program: East Africa

By Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Darron Salzer National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – This year, the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program expanded to include a partnership between the Djiboutian Armed Forces and the Kentucky National Guard, and one between the Massachusetts National Guard and Kenya Defence Forces.

These two new partnerships are a continuation of the program's goals, said Guard officials familiar with the program.

"The goal of the program is to foster enduring relationships beyond military-to-military, beyond military-to civilian, and encourage civilian-to-civilian engagements, as well as foster opportunities for our National Guard Soldiers and Airmen to remain operationally ready through opportunities to exchange best practices," said Army Lt. Col. Shaun Mistlebauer, branch chief of the Atlantic Branch, State Partnership Program and International Engagements Division, at the NGB.

The partnerships with Kenya and Djibouti also support the objectives of the combatant command in that area, Mistlebauer said.

The NGB's State Partnership Program began in 1993 with National Guard elements from three U.S. states pairing with newly independent, former Soviet republics. Since then it has grown significantly, now with 76 partnerships around the world.

Djibouti and Kentucky

On June 2, representatives from the Kentucky National Guard and the Djiboutian Armed Forces formalized their state partnership agreement during a signing ceremony at the Kempinski Hotel in Djibouti City.

It was a first for East Africa.

"Ten African countries already benefit from this program and we are honored to be the eleventh African country and the first to benefit from East Africa," said Djiboutian Maj. Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, Djiboutian Armed Forces chief of defense, during the ceremony. "This follows from the new partnership that our two countries are committed to. Since the meeting between our two heads of state in May 2014, the cooperation between our two countries has strengthened positively and we are very optimistic to see, in the coming years, a considerable expansion of our defense and security cooperation."

The partnership with the Kentucky National Guard is designed to enhance the development of Djibouti's disaster response and consequence management, port and border security capabilities and interagency cooperation.

"The SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense with the armed forces of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship by means of a tailored, small footprint, high-impact security cooperation engagement that fosters long-term enduring relationships with allies around the world," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, Kentucky National Guard adjutant general, during the ceremony. "Having a partnership with Djibouti allows us the opportunity to engage in mutually beneficial exchanges at all levels of the military as well as the civilian world."

Zakaria agreed.

"Your presence among us today demonstrates the importance accorded by the U.S. to the strengthening of the cooperation between the U.S. military and the Djiboutian Defense and Security Forces as well as our two friendly peoples," said Zakaria. "I am convinced that we could mutually benefit from this partnership, which will consolidate our operational capabilities in multiple areas. Long-Live the Djibouti-American Cooperation."

Kenya and Massachusetts

During a ceremony at the Kenya Ministry of Defence in Nairobi, Kenya, Oct. 1, the Massachusetts National Guard confirmed their state partnership agreement with the Kenyan Defence Forces.

The signing ceremony officially made the partnership the 76th for the NGB’s 22-year-old program.

"This gathering underscores the strong ties of friendship and mutual interests between the Republic of Kenya and the Unites States," said Kenyan cabinet secretary of defence Raychelle Omamo. "It is my sincere hope that this agreement will solidify our partnership and serve our collective vision of peace and security in Kenya and our region."

Similar to Kentucky, support for the partnership with the Massachusetts National Guard and Kenya came from the Massachusetts governor's office, as well as local academia and civic organizations with established Kenyan relationships.

"We couldn't be more proud to be partnering with the Republic of Kenya," said Air Force Maj. Gen. L. Scott Rice, Massachusetts National Guard adjutant general. "Our service members will provide mutual benefits to this strategic partnership with the Republic of Kenya. We are excited to exchange ideas and share knowledge to foster an enduring partnership."

Global Security

According to Guard officials, U.S. Department of State foreign policy goals guide the State Partnership Program in support of the combatant commanders’ objectives in the area of responsibility.

"National Guard states have been building enduring relationships for more than 20 years through the State Partnership Program," said Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "This partnership establishes Kenya as the National Guard’s 76th partner nation and greatly enhances combatant commanders’ global security objectives."

The partnerships with Kenya and Djibouti could provide several advantages for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, CJTF-HOA, which is headquartered at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

In his remarks June 2, Tonini said Djibouti has already become a key regional partner with the U.S. in humanitarian and counter-terrorism operations throughout East Africa. Djiboutian Armed Forces have well-established relationships with personnel assigned to the Task Force, which includes Kentucky Guard members, who are a force multiplier to the region.

A key advantage for CJTF-HOA is the unique skillsets and capabilities that Guard members bring to these two partnerships.

"The National Guard brings civilian skillsets that other Service members cannot," explained Mistlebauer. "Many of our Airmen and Soldiers [have civilian skillsets] that the active components do not have, to include homeland response, defense support of civilian authorities, and the capability to integrate with civilian law enforcement."

It is this blend of civilian and military skills that provides partner nations with highly capable partners, which fosters enduring friendships.

"Through assurances of that friendship, they feel that they have someone who will back them when needed, not just in sharing knowledge and experiences but also in the event of a regional crisis," Mistlebauer said.

For the future, the SPP is on track to continue to evolve to meet global security objectives and national security goals, while maintaining relationships with some of the staunchest allies and partners of the U.S. around the world, said Guard officials.

"When I think about the way ahead for the State Partnership Program, I think about a lot more open dialogue between the nations," Mistlebauer said.