SOUTHWEST ASIA -- It is easy to quickly identify practical reasons for a partnership between Kuwaiti and U.S. Air Defense Artillery units. With Iranian ballistic missiles and launchers just a short distance to the northeast of Kuwait, cooperation between Kuwaiti and U.S. ADA units ensures the defense of assets critical to both countries.
Kuwait and the U.S. conduct joint training to sustain proficiency, focus on ADA related discussions, and share a formal breakfast together each week. However, the idea of maintaining a strictly professional relationship with a country that continues to feel a genuine sense of appreciation and respect for the United States, specifically U.S. military forces, is not realistic.
Though beneficial, discussion between the U.S. and Kuwait does not end with the subject of air defense contingency operations. Instead, it inevitably continues, as conversation naturally does between friends, into the realm of local traditions, family members, recent vacations and even favorite foods. For the 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and Kuwait's 46th Patriot Battalion, this personal connection was further solidified during Kuwait's celebration of the 53rd anniversary of National Day on February 25th 2014.
Having spent nearly six months working together, the relationship between Kuwait's ADA units and 1-44 ADA was strong. However, the leaders of 1-44 ADA had yet to completely grasp the depth of Kuwait's appreciation for the U.S. An invitation to spend the afternoon with the Executive Officer of Kuwait's 46th Patriot Battalion, Major Fawaz Alayoubi, and his family, would enhance their perspective on the strength of their ties.
Driving just south of the Kuwait Naval Base, the leaders of the "Strike First" battalion passed local children throwing water balloons at cars, waving Kuwaiti flags from front yards and vehicle windows, and a collection of kites at a large campsite, a distinct carnival-type atmosphere surrounded them. Within minutes, they were walking towards the Alayoubi family chalet where his aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters clapped excitedly, sang the Kuwait National Anthem, and chanted 'U.S.A.' as they approached.
They all smiled as they eagerly shook their hands and welcomed them to their home. Shortly thereafter, everyone was eating traditional Kuwaiti food, laughing and posing for pictures with Major Fawaz and his family, and enjoying views of the Arabian Gulf, the deep-rooted mutual
respect between the leaders of the two countries' air defense units led to the beginning of a wonderful National Day celebration.
At the insistence of Major Fawaz's family, Lt. Col. Maurice O. Barnett, battalion commander 1-44th ADA., Maj. David Vodarick, operations officer, and Capt. Charles Thomson, also part of 1-44 ADA, changed into shirts that prominently displayed the Kuwaiti flag before departing to meet and celebrate with the family of Major Fawaz's wife. Rather than singing and clapping, this side of Major Fawaz's family targeted them with squirt guns and water balloons as they arrived at their tent.
The hosts continued to insist that they considered Barnett, Vodarick and Thomson family, and this was especially clear when their Kuwait shirts were quickly soaking wet. Soon they were sitting outside in lawn chairs, enjoying tea, and sharing stories with friends. The events really did not seem much different than Independence Day in the United States. To finish the evening, everyone returned to the chalet and the celebration continued.
The festivities of National Day culminated back at Major Fawaz's chalet. All of the children spoke perfect English and seemed happy to talk to Americans and answer questions about day to day life in their country. Eventually, Capt. Thomson joined the kids as they took turns taking shots on the soccer goal set up in their yard. The children enthusiastically provided some much needed tips and, though he intended to simply kick the ball a few times, they wanted him to participate much more.
Later, they ate with his family and then transitioned comfortably into listening to traditional Kuwaiti songs, clapping, waving flags, and even dancing. The day ended just as it began, witnessing Kuwait's national pride and how much gratitude towards the United States is intertwined in the love Kuwaitis feel for their own country.
It is without question that the U.S.-Kuwait partnership was born out of strategic necessity but there is also no debating that the relationship with Kuwait has grown into much more than that over the past two decades. Throughout this particular celebration, each country was genuinely happy to be in the other's company.
There was nothing calculated about their intentions; they were building friendships with great people and making memories that will endure forever. The leaders of 1-44 ADA wanted to be in Kuwait for these momentous days just as much as their hosts wanted them to be here. Though rare, this combination has the potential to breed synchronized, productive cooperation on both professional and personal levels.
As the 1-44 ADA Battalion's friendship with Kuwait's Patriot units continues to grow, operational capabilities will surely follow. It is certainly a distinct honor to be in a position to play just a small role in the advancement of this terrific partnership and to develop life-long friends in the process.