MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay -- Members of the Connecticut National Guard met and fomented critical discussion with Uruguayan service leads from the Army, Navy, and Air Force June 24 - 29, 2019 in Montevideo, Uruguay during a State Partnership Program (SPP) visit. One of the United States' key policy goals in Uruguay is to enhance U.S., Uruguayan, and global security by working with our military counterparts in Uruguay.
The SPP is a program the National Guard began in 1993 to promote enduring and mutually beneficial security relationships with ally nations. There are currently 83 countries across all six geographic combatant commands that participate in the program. The Connecticut National Guard is partnered with Uruguay and has been working with the South American nation for the last 20 years.
"The goal of the SPP is to establish ongoing relationships with these countries that each state has been assigned to," said Maj. David Ferrer, Connecticut National Guard SPP director who also served as the interpreter for this visit. "These partnerships include varying levels of participation all the way from the lower enlisted ranks to higher-ranking senior leaders to exchange ideas. Overall, the U.S. uses this program to have a strategic advantage and it's one of the security cooperation tools available."
SPP visits to partner nations include senior leader and familiarization visits, cooperative training and exercises, co-deployments, and assessments, which can focus on a variety of topics.
"The purpose of this specific visit was threefold," said Lt. Col. Guy Marino, 103rd Air Control Squadron. "We are here to provide a technical assessment of the Uruguayan military's ability to combine ground and air radars into the air operations center, observe joint policies and procedures within the three services, and assess their ability to use a common operational picture."
Colonel Esteban F. Gonzalez, the Director of International Relations for the Estado Mayor de la Defensa (ESMADE), was one of the key leaders Connecticut National Guard members met with during their visit. ESMADE is the joint military headquarters that falls directly under the Uruguayan Ministry of Defense. Gonzalez believes in the importance of the state partnership with the Connecticut National Guard.
"It is very important to have this exchange because of the experience and capabilities of the Connecticut National Guard," said Gonzalez. "The joint operating center experience Connecticut has, especially, at my level, is very important. The established emergency plans the Connecticut National Guard has will help us greatly in our operations, peacekeeping deployments, and civil protection."
Colonel Gonzalez provided an example where a joint operations policy would have augmented mission efficiency following a natural disaster.
"There was a tornado in [the city of] Dolores a few years ago that went right through the middle of the city," said Gonzalez. "The Army was the first to deploy to the city to control looting. I went to visit Dolores while working in the Ministry of Defense as a staff officer to assess the Army's support of the mission. After this experience I determined that establishing a joint operating center at ESMADE would enhance our abilities to make decisions in real time."
Uruguayan Air Force Major Esteban Poiso, Air Operation Center Chief, has seen the benefit provided by the partnership with Connecticut first-hand.
"The AOC (Air Operations Center) has worked with the Connecticut Air National Guard since around 2009," said Major Poiso. "Our AOC has grown as a result of this relationship; from starting with basic maintenance and learning how to fix systems, we are now at the level where we are working with ESMADE and developing policies and guidance to have joint operability with our systems. We've evolved to having a more complex exchange during our visits now with the Connecticut National Guard."
"What I hope to gain from this visit," said Poiso, "is to obtain feedback from the Connecticut Air National Guard so we know that we are on the right track. Our unit is still growing and they bring a lot of experience we can benefit from. We will know how to further improve our capabilities and continue moving forward."
Ferrer agreed that the partnership between the U.S. and Uruguay has grown significantly from its beginnings 20 years ago.
"The program is expanding," said Ferrer. "We've conducted our first cyber defense engagement earlier this year, providing an assessment of their status with a focus on cyber security. Having grown to include complex specialties like cyber defense or our current engagement for radar integration and doctrine demonstrates the Uruguayan military finds significant merit with the State Partnership Program."