COLUMBIA, S.C. (Dec. 1, 2015) -- Colombian army engineers visited with South Carolina Army National Guard engineers to learn more about the Guard's recent flood response efforts during a subject matter expert exchange, Nov. 15-21.

While in South Carolina, the five Colombian officers saw firsthand the areas affected by the recent floods and met with their National Guard counterparts. The exchange showed how the Guard integrates with civilian first responders and state and local emergency management during a natural disaster or other response. The South Carolina National Guard operated in 20 counties when more than two feet of rain fell across parts of the state, washing out roads and breaching dams.

Colombian army Lt. Col. Hernando Rodriguez, commander of the engineer maintenance battalion in Tolemaida, said the exchange was very positive and helped his soldiers obtain knowledge to take back to Colombia.

Rodriguez said what caught his attention was, "how the joint operations center operates with the National Guard and civilians working together," and how the response starts at the lowest level and builds.

Rodriguez briefed the South Carolina National Guard on the Colombian response in the wake of the Nov. 13, 1985, volcano eruption and mudslides in the town of Armero. The disaster at Armero was the worst natural disaster in Colombia's history and killed an estimated 25,000 people in the town.

Rodriguez said Colombia faces severe drought in the north, flooding in Bogota, and the nation has 15 active volcanoes. In Colombia, the military takes the lead after natural disasters, as opposed to the United States where the Guard is a support agency, assisting emergency management agencies. He said the Colombian military prepares like the Guard.

In addition to seeing flood damage and where the Guard responded, the Colombian engineers toured the Charleston County Emergency Operations Center and the State Emergency Operations Center to see how the Guard interfaces at the state and county level. The South Carolina National Guard mobilized 3,700 Soldiers and airmen in the aftermath of the historic rains in October.

The Colombian officers are interested in learning more about the national response framework and how the Guard works with local emergency management to respond. The longstanding relationship with the Colombians continuing to strengthen through each engagement.

Col. Jody Dew, director of military support for the South Carolina Army National Guard, echoed Lt. Col. Rodriguez's thoughts.

"It was a good learning experience for our Soldiers, and we enjoyed a good exchange of information," Dew said.

Since its launch in 2012, when the South Carolina National Guard introduced its State Partnership Program, or SPP, with the Republic of Colombia, South Carolina has focused on establishing long-term relationships where Colombia and South Carolina can promote mutual interests and build lasting capabilities. In the past year, the South Carolina National Guard has held 26 engagements with its partner nation.

"Our relationship with Colombia is continuing to develop," said Army Lt. Col. David King, SPP director for the South Carolina National Guard. "Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief is an area where we both have a lot to share and learn from each other."

The Guard's SPP was first introduced in 1993 in Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, there are 70 partnerships worldwide.