MUSCATATUCK URBAN TRAINING CENTER, Ind. (American Forces Press Service, May 14, 2007) - A handful of attaches got a first-hand look at U.S. military and civilian first responders' ability to respond to a catastrophe at the National Guard's Vigilant Guard exercise in Indiana on May 12.

The group was flown to the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center at the invitation of National Guard Chief Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum. The Guard exercise scenario played out on this sprawling, 1,000-acre rural training area just outside of Indianapolis. More than 2,000 National Guard troops and hundreds of state and federal emergency response agencies worked through the disaster scenario of a 10-kiloton nuclear explosion in Indianapolis.

Attaches from Serbia, Jordan, Kenya, Tunisia, Bolivia and Hungary, walked through the stages of the exercise receiving briefs and asking questions of those participating.

The group was invited as part of an effort to strengthen the Guard's State Partnership Program, said Maj. Gen. Bill Etter, director of strategic plans and policy for the National Guard Bureau.

"I think it was fantastic. They were able to see some cases where the military was responding, some cases where the civilians were responding, and some cases where they were working together hand in hand," Maj. Gen. Etter said. "The only way they would have had access (to this exercise) is through the National Guard."

Maj. Gen. Etter said the opportunity to view the exercise provides a real-world perspective of the Guard's abilities for the attaches.

"We can stand in front of someone and give them a slide, ... but until they see the capabilities of the National Guard live, it just doesn't make as much sense," Maj. Gen. Etter said.

The Guard now has 56 state partnerships throughout the world, in all four major Army military commands outside the United States. The bureau matches states with countries wanting to participate in the program, which partners key leaders for training events. There are three categories of exchange: military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian.

Maj. Gen. Etter said that many leaders from both sides of the program progress through the ranks simultaneously, building relationships that last throughout their military careers.

"It is a significant contribution to stability in a region," Maj. Gen. Etter said.

He also said encouraging other countries to participate in joint training increases interoperability.

The Guard is looking to grow the program, especially in Africa, but also within U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Central Command. "There are regions of the world that are under-represented," Maj. Gen. Etter said.

Kenyan Army Col. Leonard Owambo said the networking between civil and military organizations at the site impressed him. "By virtue of the fact that we are sharing the same world community, ... sharing the same challenges and threats, ... it is beneficial because we see we know what the U.S. can do to take care of such here. And whenever something like this happens where we come from, we know how to get assistance," Owambo Col. said.

He said his country has similar capabilities, but they are at the "toddler" stage in development. "The concept is there. The intent is there, and I think, with our relationships, we are building towards that," he said.