MANILA, Philippines – The U.S. National Guard’s top general met with Philippine military leaders recently to discuss enhancing the security cooperation partnership between the Southeast Asian island nation and the Hawaii and Guam National Guard.
“There are so many benefits to our cooperation,” U.S. Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said. “Stronger diplomatic relations, greater prosperity, advanced disaster recovery, improved resilience in the face of adversity, and a stable, more peaceful world for generations to come.”
This more than 7,000-island archipelago in the Philippine Sea on the western margin of the Pacific Ocean was the chief of the National Guard Bureau’s final stop on a three-nation Indo-Pacific trip to nurture National Guard relationships in the region and explore ways to boost support to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
“The Philippines is the United States’ oldest ally in the Indo-Pacific,” Hokanson said. “For more than 70 years, our alliance has advanced the peace, prosperity and security of both our nations and the region.”
The Hawaii National Guard and Guam National Guard have had a security cooperation partnership with the Philippines under the 100-nation Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program since 2000. Hokanson joined Guardsmen for the closing ceremony of a leadership development training exchange during his visit May 20-21.
Initially established in Europe in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the SPP has grown to include relationships between state or territory National Guards and countries in every U.S. geographic combatant command. This year is the 30th anniversary of the growing program.
“These relationships not only improve our nations’ readiness and interoperability, they also deepen friendships and understanding,” Hokanson said. “Yes, we enhance our capabilities. Yes, we gain essential experience. But we also establish ties that withstand the tests of time and distance. We cannot surge trust — we can only build it.”
In discussions, Hokanson and senior Philippine Army, Air Force and Reserve leaders sought ways in which the SPP can further contribute to enhancing the readiness and interoperability of U.S. and Philippine military forces, including bolstering reserve components and strengthening the U.S.-Philippine defense alliance.
U.S. Army Col. Mike Cruz, the Guam National Guard’s newly appointed adjutant general, joined Hokanson for this portion of his Indo-Pacific trip.
With a slightly larger total landmass than Arizona, the Philippines is home to more than 116 million people, with 140,000 active-duty troops and 365,000 reservists.
Among recent SPP exchanges, the Guam National Guard has conducted leadership development exchanges with Philippine reservists, and the Hawaii National Guard has worked with the Philippine Air Defense Command on air space management.
Humanitarian assistance, disaster response, urban search and rescue, peacekeeping operations, cybersecurity, tactical casualty combat care, officer training, noncommissioned officer development, and engineering were focus areas of other recent SPP exchanges or ones planned soon between Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines.
Hokanson, joined by his wife, Kelly, also laid a wreath at the Manila American Cemetery, an island of crosses and monuments meticulously groomed and managed by the American Battle Monuments Commission in the heart of bustling Manila. American and Philippine service members are memorialized here, and it is the only one of the 24 U.S. overseas military cemeteries where the Stars and Stripes and host nation flags are flown together.
This hallowed ground bears silent testimony to the enduring alliance between the United States and the Philippines, commemorating American and Philippine troops who fought shoulder-to-shoulder and died in the Pacific theater of World War II.
Many of the 300,000 American citizens living in the Philippines are military retirees, and the nation is home to the only Veterans Affairs clinic in a foreign country.
“Watching our forces work together and learn from each other, as they have for decades, I was struck by our commonality and the opportunities and challenges of our shared world,” Hokanson said after his visit.
“Our National Defense Strategy is clear: Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength and will be more critical in the years ahead,” Hokanson said. “That’s why the SPP is so important. And that’s why the relationship between the Philippines and the Hawaii and Guam National Guards is so important.”