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W.Va. National Guard continues to build and expand important international partnerships

West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, and other West Virginia National Guard leaders recently returned from trips to Peru and Qatar as the Guard continues to build and expand important international partnerships through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP).

The SPP supports the security cooperation objectives of the United States and the Geographic Combatant Commands by developing enduring relationships with partner countries and carrying out activities to build partner capacity, improve interoperability, and enhance U.S. access and influence while increasing the readiness of U.S. and partner forces to meet emerging challenges.

The West Virginia National Guard now partners with three nations through the SPP: Peru, Qatar, and Gabon.

Peru and West Virginia have partnered together through the SPP since 1996. During that time, the partnership has held more than 200 high-level and subject matter expert engagements providing insight into regional challenges facing the Andean Ridge, and assisting Peruvian forces in the areas of counterinsurgency, anti-terrorism, emergency preparedness, risk mitigation, and disaster response and recovery.​

Delegations from Peru often travel to West Virginia to learn first-hand about WVNG capabilities including engineering and aeromedical evacuation, and to participate in a variety of training events and exercises. Likewise, delegations from West Virginia have traveled to Peru to work with counterparts on various capabilities such as providing advanced instruction on military vehicle maintenance, conducting advanced search and rescue courses, and sharing best practices on cybersecurity fundamentals.

In late March, a delegation from the WVNG including Maj. Gen. Crane met with various officials in Peru including U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires John McNamara, Gen. Cesar Briceno, Commanding General of the Peruvian Army, Lt. Gen. Ruben Gambarini, Chief of Staff of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP), Maj. Gen. Julio Gutierrez, Commander of the 2nd Air Wing, and Gen. Carlos Rabanal, Deputy Commander for the Chief of Defense (CHOD). The trip was highlighted by discussions including upcoming partnership efforts on Humanitarian/Disaster Relief (HA/DR), Cyber, and Enlisted Leader Professional Development, as well as West Virginia Air National Guard Wings and West Virginia Army National Guard aviation units supporting a major multilateral disaster response exercise, Resolute Sentinel ’24, in Peru later this summer.

“Our incredible relationship with Peru continues to deepen and strengthen,” stated Crane. “Through the SPP, we utilize a whole-of-society approach to build and deepen relationships expanding military-to-military relationships alongside commercial, educational, and government-to-government opportunities. Continued engagements help us to grow security cooperation and military readiness in our hemisphere as we continue to foster alliances that benefit U.S. interests and compete against the influence of strategic competitors.”

In 2018, Qatar was added as a second SPP partner for West Virginia. Engagements with Qatar have centered on emergency response, land forces interoperability, the intelligence enterprise, and professional development, including multilateral security planning and execution for the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar.

During a multi-day visit to Qatar in late February, a delegation including Maj. Gen. Crane met with US Ambassador to Qatar, Timmy T. Davis, MG Al-Khayarin, Commander of the Qatar Emiri Land Forces, MG Rashid Al Hajri, Commander of the Qatar Military Police Forces, Brigadier Jassim Al-Attiyah, Commander of the Qatar Joint Special Forces, MG Al-Naimi, President of the Qatar National Service Academy, and MG Al-Shawani, Deputy Commander of the Qatar Emiri Air Force. Topics discussed in those meetings included increased intelligence cooperation, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interoperability with Qatari forces, potential cooperative academic partnerships with higher education colleges and universities in West Virginia, joint-level exercise Desert Leopard involving the WVNG, Qatar and Kuwait, Special Forces interoperability and joint-training opportunities such as the WVNG Ridge Runner program, direct support for an all-female unit stood up by the Qatari forces, and future training and engagement opportunities in both Qatar and West Virginia.

“We have some truly exciting opportunities for our entire One Guard Family coming up with our Qatari partners, and this trip helped to lay the groundwork for those and future engagements,” said Crane. “Qatar is also interested in partnering with us to explore training opportunities with Peru. This is proof positive of the ability for the SPP program to forge new relationships and alliances between our partner nations benefitting the entire international security environment.”

The trips to Peru and Qatar come on the heels of the official announcement by the U.S. State Department that the WVNG has officially paired with a third SPP nation, Gabon. West Virginia became only the seventh state to have a third SPP partner nation.

“Being chosen to partner with a third SPP nation is a huge honor for the WVNG,” stated Lt. Col. Erik Sarson, WVNG SPP Director. “The SPP is a unique tool in the U.S. toolkit that enables deep relationships and continuity in an era where Allies and partners are more critical to our success worldwide than ever before. We will be able to utilize our experiences working with Peru and Qatar to quickly build important relationships in Gabon that will strengthen U.S. presence and influence on the African continent while providing phenomenal experiential opportunities to Guard members across the state.”

Initial engagements with Gabon will begin this summer, laying the groundwork for a full formal visit and key leader engagement with the African nation later in 2024.  The West Virginia – Gabon partnership will focus on key leader engagements, noncommissioned officer professional development, basic Soldier skills instruction, aviation maintenance training, disaster preparedness and response, and military civil engineering.

Beginning as a program in 1993 to assist countries emerging from behind the Iron Curtain, today SPP involves one-third of the world’s countries and the National Guard of every U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia. Most of the earliest SPP partner countries in Europe have gone on to become U.S. allies in NATO, and many of them credit the SPP and their NG state partners with helping make that possible.

At the national level, SPP is in its 31st year of successfully building relationships that today include 100 unique security partnerships around the globe.

“Our SPP partnerships form a core strength of our organization, and our team’s efforts are a testament to our Guard’s influence and ability to contribute to global security,” Crane added. “Every West Virginian can be proud of the work we do both here and abroad supporting defense and security cooperation objectives around the world.”

Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, and members of the WVNG senior leadership, pose for a photo with members of  the U.S. Embassy Military team and Gen. Carlos Rabanal, Peruvian Deputy Commander for the Chief of Defense, at the Peruvian Joint Command in Lima, Peru, in late March, 2024. (Courtesy Photo)
Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, shares a moment of laughter with Gen. Orestes Vargas, Peruvian Army Chief of Staff in Lima, Peru, in late March 2024. (Courtesy Photo)

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FEATURE IMAGE CAPTION: Maj. Gen. Bill Crane, Adjutant General of the West Virginia National Guard, poses for a photo with Maj. Gen. Hamad Al-Naimi, President of the Qatar National Service Academy in Doha, Qatar, in late February 2024. The visit was part of a key leader engagement through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Qatar and West Virginia have been SPP partners since 2018. (Courtesy Photo)

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