BOGOTA, Colombia -- The adjutant general for South Carolina visited the Republic of Colombia, April 29-May 3, 2019, during a key leader engagement as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program (SPP).

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, who became the state's adjutant general February 2019, and U.S. Air Force Col. Akshai Gandhi, South Carolina Air National Guard, 169th Fighter Wing commander, met with Colombian Army and Air Force senior leaders, as well as the Chief of Defense; further strengthening the bonds between the South Carolina National Guard and the Colombian military.

"The week's visit was strategically important for the partnership," said U.S. Army Maj. Justin Montgomery, South Carolina National Guard State Partnership Program director. "Colombia has no better partner than the United States, and the United States has no more willing and capable partner in the region than Colombia."

The SPP between the Republic of Colombia and South Carolina began via a signed partnership proclamation, July 23, 2012. The South Carolina partnership falls within U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility.

The weeklong trip was McCarty's first official visit to Colombia as the adjutant general. Previously, as the deputy adjutant general, he was involved with other SPP engagements.

"It was a great opportunity to introduce myself to the Colombian leadership and establish a relationship," said McCarty. "I also had a chance to reaffirm both the U.S. Southern Command and South Carolina National Guard's priorities."

Montgomery added the South Carolina National Guard is scheduled to participate in two large security cooperation activities in Colombia this summer. The 218th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 1-118th Infantry Battalion will participate in an infantry live-fire exercise with the Colombian Army and the South Carolina Air National Guard will send four F16 fighter jets to fly alongside the Colombian Air Force Kfir fighter jets in July to participate in the biannual air show in Rionegro. Both events increase interoperability between the two nations' militaries.

South Carolina has focused on establishing long-term relationships between Colombia and South Carolina to promote mutual interests and build lasting capabilities for both partners. The National Guard's SPP is uniquely qualified to connect experts together for information sharing and exchanging ideas.