ARLINGTON, Va., (Army News Service, Aug. 14, 2009) -- This year the National Guard State Partnership Program will add another country to its line-up in Africa.

Liberia, in West Africa, recently requested a state partnership through the U.S. State Department. The partnership will help the overall strategy for the newly created U.S. Africa Command, said SPP officials. Seven nations within Africa Command's purview have partnerships, not including the addition of Liberia this year and Kenya in 2010.

Liberia's request for a partnership proposal was submitted to the U.S. Embassy, which then passed it on to Africa Command. They sent the request to the international affairs division of the National Guard Bureau, where it ended up on the desk of Maj. Matthew Dankyan, the Africa desk officer for SPP.

Dankyan, who is originally from the Liberian state of Bong, then met with officials to discuss the program.

"When they requested the partnership, we went to Liberia to explain what it's all about," he said. "From what I had observed, they had done their homework on the partnership before they even requested it."

The major evaluated their military exercises to ensure a standard level of proficiency. After finding them ready, he started the process of matching them with a state that meets their needs.

These needs can be very specific. Some countries are recovering from war and request states with high engineering quotients to help rebuild essential structures, while others want experience in farming, and also need help in planning responses for natural or man-made disasters.

"It depends on the needs of the country," said Dankyan. "If a country wants Air Force activities for example, that would be number one on our decision metric."

For Liberia, a coastal state, Dankyan said their ideal counterpart would have expertise in the management of ports and agriculture.

When they identify the criteria, the next part involves what Guard members have been doing for more than 372 years -- volunteering.

"It is voluntary in the sense that they come up and say 'I am the best state to partner up with Liberia, because I have this and they need this,'" he said.

In fact, so many states have volunteered for this partnership that Dankyan has not been able to whittle down the list to one.

Liberia is just the beginning of a new cultural exchange with Africa. Many more countries in Africa are queuing up for the knowledge and experience of the National Guard.

"Other countries in Africa are requesting to be partners, which I think is a good thing," Dankyan said. "Our presence will be recognized and appreciated in the countries that request us to be partners."

(Staff Sgt. S. Patrick McCollum writes for the National Guard Bureau.)