By Col. Richard Goldenberg, New York National GuardNovember 8, 2018
NEW YORK -- South African National Defense Force and Department of Defense officials locked down plans for joint U.S./South African military training in 2019 during a three-day meeting November 6-8, at Fort Hamilton.
The New York National Guard hosted the meeting, which has been a partner with the Republic of South Africa since 2003 through the National Guard State Partnership Program.
"2019 marks 25 years for South Africa as a democratic country," said Nick Sandall, Chief Director of South African Defense Policy and co-chair of the event. "For nearly as long, we have been a partner with the United States, and our commitment remains strong and steadfast."
"Twenty-two years ago we began this strategic partnership, a long and enduring partnership, through good times and bad, though I would say mostly good," Sandall said. "This meeting is one of the anchors of that engagement."
More than three-dozen leaders from the U.S. and South Africa attended the three-day gathering held at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, N.Y. to plan for cooperative events for the coming year.
"The South Africa and U.S. partnership is an enduring one," said Michelle Lenihan, Acting Deputy Secretary for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs.
The goal of the Defense Committee gathering is to formalize that partnership to create tangible events, she said.
"Our gathering creates better understanding, but more importantly builds concrete actions for the way ahead," Lenihan said.
The U.S. - South Africa Defense Committee is how the two militaries jointly manage their defense relationship. The meeting allows military planners from both nations to plan bilateral initiatives that translate to training exercises in the coming year.
In addition to hosting, New York Army National Guard Maj. Al Phillips, the Guard's bilateral affairs officer serving in Pretoria, South Africa, led a joint operations work group to identify opportunities in the coming year and gather consensus.
The goal of the bilateral engagement is to offer unique training opportunities for the National Guard while deepening the relationships and understanding of both partner nations' militaries, Phillips said. The meeting at Fort Hamilton creates the roadmap for moving forward, he said.
"The more we talk, the more we understand each other," said South African Maj. Gen. T.C. Mokhosi, co-chair of the event and Joint Operations Officer for the South African Defense Forces. "And the more we understand, the more we can be engaged. This is an opportunity that opens so many doors."
The State Partnership Program for the New York National Guard with South Africa is a means to an end, explained Don Get, the U.S. Africa Command Deputy Director (J5) for Security and Cooperation, and American co-chair of the meeting.
The program is guided by State Department foreign policy goals, and supports combatant commander security cooperation objectives. National Guard engagements with South Africa increase American influence and contribute to the regional security interests in Africa, he said.
Guard engagements are not just cost effective, but provide a foundation for enduring relationships unique in the military services, Get said.
Marking its 15th year of partnership, the New York National Guard is the oldest partnership on the African continent, he noted.
"There's so much more continuity in the National Guard that strengthens the program," Get said. "They have more contacts with our partners than our active component could ever hope to achieve."
For example, two months prior to the Bilateral Defense Committee meeting, the New York National Guard participated in the Africa Aerospace and Defense Expo at Waterkloof Air Base with a C-17A Globemaster III, LC-130 Hercules Skibird, and an MQ-7 Shadow remotely piloted aircraft.
New York has been a partner in the biennial Defense Expo since the partnership began, with elements on display for the past sixteen years. In those eight expositions, New York Airmen and Soldiers met with South African military peers and provided community members with their first impressions of Americans during the shows.
New York Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Timothy LaBarge, the Director of the Joint Staff and New York's co-chair for the event, remarked that these exchanges leave a lasting impression on Soldiers and Airmen.
LaBarge told the group that for the most recent airshow in Pretoria, one New York Airman went the extra mile to attend.
"A loadmaster who had participated in the 2016 event wanted so badly to attend, that even though other crew members were selected for the mission to share the opportunity, he purchased his own airline ticket, flew to Johannesburg, traveled to Pretoria, put on his flight suit and spent three days with our crew at the airshow. All on his own dime."
"I think that's a great metaphor for how New York views our commitment to this partnership," he said.
"I see the State Partnership Program as about the shared relationships with our South African partners, and especially the cultural exchanges," LaBarge said. "It's about the shared interests we have."
The agreement for 2019 will see key engagements for Military Police forces, fire support, medical providers, logistics planners and chaplaincy staff representatives, as well as a capabilities presentation of Air National Guard rescue forces from the 106th Rescue Wing.
"We'd like to engage to a level where you can't stand us anymore," joked Labarge to his South African counterparts. "We'll engage as much as you will have us."
"It's been a fine opportunity to come over here," Mokhosi said. "This has been an excellent and beneficial review of programs. At the end of the day, it's for the benefit of both our forces."