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Feature Stories

NEWS | Aug. 19, 2015

Arizona Guard members visit Kazakhstan, strengthen military-to-military partnership

By Staff Sgt. Monette Wesolek Arizona National Guard

PHOENIX – Have you been to Central Asia lately? The Arizona National Guard has, as part of its State Partnership Program (SPP).

Arizona Soldiers and Airmen travel half way around the world several times a year to share thoughts, ideas and common practices with their Kazakhstani counterparts.

These two military entities have been partnered since 1993, and though not the first partnership of its kind, it was the first in Central Asia and one of the original 22 SPPs.

Arizona National Guard leaders made a trip to Kazakhstan in July to engage key Kazakhstani leadership and to observe Arizona Soldiers participating in Exercise Steppe Eagle, a key feature of the partnership held each year.

This trip was a first for these key leaders allowing them to see the partnership’s effectiveness. The trip included a visit to the U.S. Embassy and other distinctive leaders as well as observing troops, both Arizona and Kazakh in the field, training together.

The SPP has been successfully building relationships for over 20 years and includes 68 unique security partnerships involving 74 nations around the globe. SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense – a state’s National Guard – with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.

Coordination and communication are key components to a successful State Partnership Program, and Army Lt. Col. Bruce Keene, Arizona National Guard State Partnership Coordinator, makes those connections possible.

“Over the 20 plus years this program has grown from individual training, to collective training, to now the Defense Institution building,” Keene said.

Keene stated that one big point for Kazakhstan is transitioning from a conscripted military to an all-volunteer force, along with the development of the Defense Institute to enable proper, standard training for the Kazakhstani military force.

“This was a key visit for the Arizona National Guard, and for me as director of this agency and as the adjutant general,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael T. McGuire said about his recent visit to Kazakhstan. “We have been partnered with Kazakhstan since 1993, as one of the original 22 states that had a State Partnership Program, so to advance that relationship with a key strategic partner like Kazakhstan is critical.”

During the last 20 years, Arizona and Kazakhstan have regularly exchanged personnel in an effort to foster personal and professional relationships, exchange ideas and improve interoperability to the mutual benefit of both armed forces.

Now as the Kazakhstani Military looks to build a strong all-volunteer force, officials are looking to the Arizona Guard for guidance and leadership in building and training in this new era of transformation.

“Our state partnership with Kazakhstan improves our ability, and that of our partner military, to work together, deploy together, train together, and learn from each other,” said Brig. Gen. Kerry Muelenbeck, director of Joint Staff, Arizona National Guard. “Teaching across language, cultural, and political barriers ensures we know our own trade even better. Perhaps the greatest synergy, however, comes from the enduring relationships that our National Guardsmen continue to form with the Kazakh forces. It is an excellent training venue for our troops and leverages those whole-of-society relationships.”