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Djibouti, Kentucky National Guard sign historic partnership agreement for East Africa

Maj. Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim (left), Djiboutian Armed Forces chief of defense, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard, sign a State Partnership Program agreement at the Kempinski Hotel in Djibouti, June 2, 2015. The accord means a long-term cooperative agreement between the Kentucky National Guard and FAD that will foster mutually beneficial exchanges at all levels of the military as well as the civilian world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Maysonet)

Maj. Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim (left), Djiboutian Armed Forces chief of defense, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard, sign a State Partnership Program agreement at the Kempinski Hotel in Djibouti, June 2, 2015. The accord means a long-term cooperative agreement between the Kentucky National Guard and FAD that will foster mutually beneficial exchanges at all levels of the military as well as the civilian world. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Maysonet)

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti -- For 22 years, the National Guard has partnered with the armed forces of allied countries to build and strengthen military, political, economic and societal relationships.   

In a historic first for East Africa, representatives from the Kentucky National Guard and the Djiboutian Armed Forces, or FAD, ratified a state partnership agreement in a signing ceremony held at the Kempinski Hotel in Djibouti City June 2.

"Ten African countries already benefit from this program, and we are honored to be the eleventh African country and the first to benefit from East Africa," said Maj. Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, FAD chief of defense. "This follows from the new partnership that our two countries are committed to. Since the meeting between our two heads of state in May 2014, the cooperation between our two countries has strengthened positively and we are very optimistic to see, in the coming years, a considerable expansion of our defense and security cooperation."

The State Partnership Program originated from a U.S. European Command program that paired Reserve Component Soldiers and Airmen with Baltic States in 1991. The National Guard Bureau later proposed pairing states with three nations emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. These partnerships became the State Partnership Program of today.

"The globalization of our societies has made our world smaller, and borders are now blurred by our ever-changing world," said Gen. Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "In that short time period, the National Guard and states continue to build close and lasting personal relationships with our partner nations around the world."

The program provides host countries with a skilled force capable of helping develop the host nation's defenses and security, disaster response, crisis management and interagency cooperation.

"The SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense with the armed forces of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship by means of a tailored, small-footprint, high-impact security cooperation engagement that fosters long-term enduring relationships with allies around the world," said Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, adjutant general of the Kentucky National Guard.

Djibouti is already a key regional partner with the United States, and is engaged in humanitarian and counter-terrorism operations throughout East Africa. The FAD has an extensive relationship with the personnel assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, which includes Kentucky Guardsmen who are a force multiplier to the region, Tonini explained.

"This is not a double partnership, it's a force multiplier," Tonini said. "Having a partnership with Djibouti allows us the opportunity to engage in mutually beneficial exchanges at all levels of the military as well as the civilian world."

According to Lt. Col. Shawn Keller, director of the Kentucky National Guard's State Partnership Program, there are several areas where the Kentucky Guard can cooperate with the FAD, including both military and civilian engagements.

"Although the SPP is based on military-to-military engagements, the partnerships can eventually leverage these relationships into civilian engagements that use the whole-of-government concept," Keller said. "Our partnership with Djibouti has the support of the governor and Commonwealth's state agencies, universities and civic organizations, many of which are already engaged in Africa and are eager to work with us to expand opportunities for citizen diplomacy with the people of Djibouti."

For CJTF-HOA, which is based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, this partnership provides several advantages.

For one, the partnership brings with it state money that can help fund additional training, joint exercises and more, for both the FAD and CJTF-HOA, explained Maj. Wes Chaney, U.S. Embassy to Djibouti security cooperation officer.

"Kentucky brings its own state money to help in Djibouti," said Chaney. "Their support effectively doubles or quadruples what is available to accomplish missions and aid here."

Another key advantage for CJTF-HOA and Djibouti is the mere presence of the Kentucky Guardsmen and Guardsmen in general, explained the U.S. ambassador to Djibouti, Thomas Kelly.

"The U.S. National Guard personnel bring many benefits to the strategic partnership between our two countries," Kelly said. "As citizen-soldiers, they use their military and civilian experiences to identify solutions and cooperate on our many shared initiatives."

It's this blend of our citizen-Soldier and citizen-Airmen's civilian and military experiences that the SPP is about. Their day-to-day civilian work and life experiences, combined with their military training, provides countries like Djibouti with a highly skilled and highly adaptable partner in countless fields, Chaney explained.

Additionally, because Kentucky's Guardsmen, like all states' National Guardsmen, act as the state's rapid response force, they also bring disaster response capabilities that can help build Djibouti's capacity in this critical area.

"This is a Title 32 program, which means they are authorized to train emergency management," said Chaney. "This means they can train non-military types such as policeman and fire fighters."

Lastly, the fact that the Kentucky Guardsmen will return to their homes and workplaces after completing their tour at CJTF-HOA means that what they learn and experience here working with the Djiboutian people and their sister services will be brought back to Kentucky.

"As Guard members, we are constantly re-evaluating better methods to protect the homeland, conduct overseas operations and foster enduring partnerships," Tonini said. "We are looking forward to the many different ways we can partner with Djibouti to exchange this knowledge. The partnership will benefit both sides in areas of military and civilian engagements such as humanitarian assistance and disaster response, counter-narcotics operations, border security, health and academia."

Kentucky signed a similar SPP agreement with Ecuador in 1996, making Djibouti its second partner nation. The SPP agreement between Djibouti and the Kentucky National Guard will create a long-term, stable relationship with one of America's key allies in Africa.

"Your presence among us today demonstrates the importance accorded by the U.S. to the strengthening of the cooperation between the U.S. military and the Djiboutian Defense and Security Forces as well as our two friendly peoples," Zakaria said. "I am convinced that we could mutually benefit from this partnership, which will consolidate our operational capabilities in multiple areas. Long-Live the Djibouti-American cooperation."