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Program benefits Special Tactics Airmen, Ecuadorians

Staff Sgt. Elmer Quijada, a pararescueman from the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Special Tactics Squadron, Louisville, Ky., explains search and rescue tactics to Ecuadorian partners during a training exercise Sept. 17, 2010, at Hollow Lake. The exchange between the countries allows both nations to share experiences and knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Ketterer)

Staff Sgt. Elmer Quijada, a pararescueman from the Kentucky Air National Guard 123d Special Tactics Squadron, Louisville, Ky., explains search and rescue tactics to Ecuadorian partners during a training exercise Sept. 17, 2010, at Hollow Lake. The exchange between the countries allows both nations to share experiences and knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Ketterer)

Master Sgt. Mario Romero, pararescueman for the Kentucky Air National Guard123d Special Tactics Squadron, jumps into Hollow Lake Sept. 17, 2010, during an training exchange with Ecuadorian military and civil authorities through Kentucky’s State Partnership Exchange Program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Ketterer)

Master Sgt. Mario Romero, pararescueman for the Kentucky Air National Guard123d Special Tactics Squadron, jumps into Hollow Lake Sept. 17, 2010, during an training exchange with Ecuadorian military and civil authorities through Kentucky’s State Partnership Exchange Program. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Ketterer)

ALBANY, Ky.-- -- Kentucky Air National Guardsmen hosted an underwater search and rescue exchange with Ecuadorian military members and their National Police Sept. 17 at Dale Hollow Lake here.

The event was part of the State Partnership Program - a cooperative that allows Bluegrass guardsmen to interface and learn from their Ecuadorian counterparts.

"The State Partnership Program is widespread across the Guard because of the continuity and longevity of relationships our Guardsmen can provide," said Maj. Matt Groves, Kentucky National Guard State Partnership Program Director.

"Kentucky formed our partnership with Ecuador in 1998. We were one of the first states to go in the [United States Southern Command area of operations] and we have had a mutually beneficial relationship with Ecuador for over a decade," Major Groves said.

Representing the Commonwealth in the exchange and hosting of the event were pararescuemen from Kentucky's 123d Special Tactics Squadron. They operated alongside and exchanged information with narcotics police, port inspectors and Marines from Ecuador.

Together, they dove at the lake, practiced with underwater radios and discussed techniques for performing search sweeps while submerged using a search grid.

"I believe this is going to make a tremendous difference for me when I return," said an Ecuadorian Narcotics Police Officer, who will use the training for duties that require him to do counter drug inspections on the hulls of naval vessels and search and rescue missions near his port in the future. "There is a great benefit for me to learn how [Kentucky Airmen] operate. Truly, this is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to grow and share."

While the latest installment of the program focused on search and rescue, the Commonwealth and Ecuadorians have worked together on other exchanges such as aircraft maintenance, officer training, counter drug programs and munitions disposal, storage and transportation. Even though the dive subject matter expert exchange was led by the 123d STS, officials said the Airmen benefit extensively from the exchange of ideas and the opportunity to travel south and learn from the Ecuadorians.

"Ecuador is very geographically diverse," Major Groves said. "Their country has 20,000-foot mountains, the Amazon jungle, the Galapagos Islands and the Coastal Range. It offers a lot of benefit to our personnel to be able to go down there and operate in those diverse regions. Search and rescue will definitely be a continuing theme in our Partnership with Ecuador and it's an area where we can develop a great relationship."