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Florida Guard shares disaster expertise with partner nations

Air Force Maj. David Brown of the Florida Air National Guard's 125th Fighter Wing discusses the equipment on his unit's RC-26B Metroliner with Earl Bowen from the Regional Security System in Jacksonville, Fla., on March 14, 2012. The exchange was part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program.

For the next few days, a team from Florida’s National Guard is in Grenada providing leadership training for the defense and security forces on the island.

Just last month, several island nations sent nine leaders to Starke, the town in Florida best known for prisoner executions, to observe an urban search-and-rescue training exercise so they would be better prepared if buildings were to collapse in a disaster.

And last year, Florida’s National Guard went to Georgetown, Guyana, to inspect racks of AK-47 rifles as part of an ammunition assessment.

Florida’s outreach is part of the State Partnership Program, which links National Guards from different states with armed forces of different nations. The idea is similar to the Sister Cities concept: Build a relationship and help each other.

“The relationships you build are invaluable,” said Florida National Guard’s Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr. “We get friendship and understanding and things that are really hard to measure.”

Titshaw, along with representives from almost 20 National Guards across the United States, gathered Tuesday at the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Doral, Fla., to discuss the program and different missions for the regions. SOUTHCOM is a joint military command that supports security objectives in the Western Hemisphere.

The conference, which has not been held since 2011, is a way for each National Guard to interact with SOUTHCOM and see how the units and the command can work together to help the partner nations. Titshaw said the conference gives him a chance to talk to the leaders of other National Guards to offer assistance.

In one case, he said, Washington, D.C., which is partnered with Jamaica, wanted to learn more about Florida’s program for troubled youth.

“This is a case where we may be able to help them help their partner,” he said.

Lt Col Thomas Hanley, the state partnership program division chief for SOUTHCOM, said the command provides guidance to the guards and “steers” them toward the missions of the command.

Created in 1993, the program now has 68 partnerships around the world and conducts 700 to 1,000 activities a year. Maj. Gen. Don McGregor, the director of strategy, policy, plans and international affairs for the National Guard, said one challenge is having a budget of just $11 million. The annual budget for Florida’s National Guard is about $300,000.

“There needs to be more money to support all of the activities,” he said.

SOUTHCOM represents 17 partnerships with 20 nations. Nations must apply to have a Guard partner. The application then goes through a rigorous process before the nation is paired with a state. McGregor said there are some natural pairings, including Louisiana and Haiti, because of culture and language.

Most recently, McGregor arranged a partnership between Tonga and Nevada. The state has more than 5,000 Tongolese.

Titshaw said that Florida’s partnerships have proven beneficial. Common interests, including stopping human- and drug-trafficking, have helped spark cooperation.

But at the end of the day, it’s all about being a good neighbor.

“The United States is a global power; it’s got its tentacles everywhere,” McGregor said. “It’s about us getting along with everybody else.”

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