Beyond partnership: Guard units perform non-traditional missions

Rabat, Morocco -- The National Guard's State Partnership Program is an important part of the Defense Department mission of security cooperation, linking states and territories with nations worldwide in a variety of cooperative activities.

Another nontraditional way the Guard can--and does--support this effort is by taking part in international air shows.

The goal of security cooperation is to cultivate relationships that promote U.S. security interests, build the defense capabilities of allied and friendly nations, and provide U.S. forces with access.

DoD participation in international air shows does all of these things and more.

Aeroexpo 2010, the biennial air and trade show in Marrakech, Morocco, is a recent example of how the Guard contributes.

Though Aeroexpo 2010 is one of the smaller DoD-approved trade shows, the U.S. military's participation both in aircraft and personnel was primarily an Air Guard affair.

Of the four American military aircraft at the show in January, three were Air Guard: South Carolina contributed two F-16 Fighting Falcons and Utah sent a KC-135 Stratotanker.

Furthermore, most of the air crews and support personnel were Guardsmen. And three out of the five U.S. flag officers in attendance were Guardsmen.

Because Morocco falls under U.S. Africa Command, that new command was assigned the lead for Aeroexpo 2010.

"Seventeenth Air Force is the air component to U.S. Africa Command, but we have no flying assets to bring to the air show, so coordination with other Air Force units was critical," explained Lt. Col. Stephen DaSilva, the 17th Air Force's planner for the event.

Plus, the other Air Force units DaSilva mentioned had to have aircraft with specific strategic value to the DoD objective for participating in Aeroexpo 2010. The Air Guard provided them.

The Royal Moroccan Air Force is buying 24 Block 52 F-16s like those flown by South Carolina. The KC-135 from Utah, which is Morocco's state partner, was the aerial refueler for the F-16s during the transatlantic flight to Morocco.

The role both Air Guard units played highlights a nascent opportunity to leverage the expertise and inherent relationshipbuilding capability in the Guard.

Creating relationships and building partner capacity are integral goals of the State Partnership Program, but the Guard demonstrated in northwest Africa it can contribute to security cooperation in ways outside that well-established program.

This capability was previously illustrated in August 2009 when several C-130 Hercules maintainers from the Tennessee Air Guard's 118th Airlift Wing visited Nigeria to familiarize Nigerian C-130 maintainers with the aircraft.

Nigeria is not the Volunteer State's partner in the State Partnership Program. But that didn't matter.

With much of our active-component equipment and personnel engaged in worldwide missions, the Guard is an avenue DoD can pursue to achieve its security cooperation objectives.

The knowledge and proficiency in the Guard is typically high and, even though Guard units have been and are deployed regularly, one of the key components of the Guard is the continuity of its personnel. Guardsmen spend more years on average in uniform than active-component troops and most of that time is spent in the same unit.

This combination is a solid contributor to security cooperation, because the familiarity it creates on the personal level is a key to fashioning solid relationships between nations, a necessary first step before any capacity can be built.

As evidenced by Aeroexpo 2010, the Guard has the capability to support security cooperation activities beyond the State Partnership Program.

And with DoD's assets on limited availability, it seems logical and necessary to turn to the Guard for this important mission.