NEWS | Oct. 27, 2016

New York National Guard hosts U.S.-South African exercise planning session

By Col. Richard Goldenberg New York National Guard

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— South African National Defense Force and Department of Defense officials locked down plans for joint U.S./ South African military training in 2017 during a three-day meeting here hosted by the New York National Guard.

More than three dozen leaders from the U.S. and South Africa attended the three-day gathering held at the New York State Military Museum in Saratoga Springs – best known for its world famous race course-- to plan for cooperative events for the coming year.

New York has been a partner with the Republic of South Africa since 2003 for combined training and shared military to military activities through the National Guard's State Partnership Program. New York volunteered to host this year's gathering because of that relationship.

"I'm so grateful to the New York National Guard for this facility to host our meeting, in such a historical setting," said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Amanda Dory, a co-chair of the bilateral meeting.

The National Guard's State Partnership Program is guided by State Department foreign policy goals, and supports combatant commander security cooperation objectives.

For example, a month prior to this Bilateral Defense Committee meeting, the New York Air National Guard participated in the Africa Aerospace and Defense Expo at Waterkloof Air Base with a C-17A Globemaster III, the MQ-9 Reaper, and several other pieces of equipment. Airmen and Soldiers engaged with South African military peers and community members during the show.

The U.S. - South Africa Defense Committee is how the two militaries jointly manage their defense relationship. The meeting, formally established in 1997, gives a forum to military planners from both nations to plan bilateral defense and security initiatives that translate to missions and training exercises in the coming year for Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.

"South Africa is truly a defense and diplomatic leader on the continent," Dory said. "We have very strong common interests and have had a very strong partnership now for decades."

In addition to hosting this year's meeting, New York Army National Guard Maj. Brian Bonnano, the Guard's bilateral affairs officer serving in Pretoria, South Africa, led a joint operations working group effort to identify training opportunities in the coming year that will promote U.S. - South Africa security cooperation and strengthen the state partnership with the New York National Guard as well.

"The South African National Defense Force is very capable," Bonnano said. "They do a variety of missions. We're just proud to be able to help them administer those missions and maintain their readiness."

South Africa, for example, will host the 2017 Shared Accord training exercise. The large scale training, last held in 2013, includes opportunities for thousands of troops to come together in South African for a wide array of training objectives, including unit live-fire scenarios, maneuver training and large-scale humanitarian assistance missions.

"Shared Accord will be a significant undertaking for the two countries. The opportunity to incorporate other observers from other countries is tremendously important," Dory said.

The goal of the bilateral engagement and State Partnership Program is to train future leaders and create a better understanding of both partner nations' militaries. Engagements such as Shared Accord establish relationships between the U.S. and South African militaries that enhance future interoperability and capabilities, Bonnano said.

Part of the meeting introduced efforts to share research and development, said Matt Warren, U.S. Director for International Armaments and Cooperation in the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Warren described potential future development and acquisitions with South Africa as a focal point for bilateral cooperation. This included his introduction of a bilateral agreement for the two militaries to conduct joint research and development together.

“This will provide the opportunity for joint development to improve and develop new military technologies,” Warren said.

“As we sit here, we are strengthening that relationship. It is important that we cooperate and continue to work together,” said South African Co-chair Dr. Thobekile Gamede, Chief of South African Defense Policy and Chief Defense Policy, Strategy and Planning.

“My emphasis is on the commitment we have to work with the U.S. Department of Defense,” Gamede said.

The visit to Saratoga Springs, New York, afforded little time for diversions in Upstate New York as working groups spent an entire day covering subjects such as policy and strategy, operations, acquisition and technology and human resources. Each group identified areas for bilateral programs and events in the coming year and beyond.

“I am very impressed with the work of each of our working groups,” Dory said of the topics discussed and reminded participants of the historical achievement approaching in 2017 with the 20th Bilateral Defense Committee next year.

“We managed to cover all that we came to do, and I'm happy with that,” Gamede said.