By Lt. Col. Al Phillips
PRETORIA, South Africa – American and South African military officials, including a New York National Guard team headed by Brig. Gen. Michel Natali, explored joint training and exchange opportunities during an annual defense committee meeting (DEFCOM) Nov. 4 and 6.
The New York National Guard has had a training relationship with the South African National Defence Force as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program since 2003.
DEFCOM is held each year to discuss bilateral security cooperation and relationship goals. It’s also an opportunity for New York National Guard and South African military representatives to discuss training and exchange opportunities in the coming year.
The meeting rotates between the U.S. and South Africa each year.
The committee includes representatives from the South African military, the South African Embassy to the United States, the U.S. Department of Defense, the United States Africa Command, and the U.S. Embassy in South Africa.
The two-day meeting was co-chaired by Michelle Lenihan, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, and Dr. Thobekile Gmede, the chief of defense policy for the South African Defence Ministry.
The delegates are assigned to one of four working groups: policy and strategy, operations, human resources, and acquisition and technology.
The emphasis during the discussions was on enhancing South Africa’s capability for peace support and humanitarian contingency operations.
“I’m pleased with the current progress between our exchanges this past year and I see great potential within the State Partnership Program for New York to help South African civil authorities and emergency management officials develop their capabilities,” Natali said.
The South African National Defence Force and the New York National Guard have held military police, natural disaster and firefighter exchanges to strengthen partner networks and capabilities.
Nineteen firefighters from New York Air National Guard air wings were in Western Cape Province during the defense committee meeting to conduct a bilateral training exercise with South African National Parks firefighting personnel.
The New York National Guard invited the South African National Defence Force to send military personnel to two military schools run by the New York Army National Guard’s 106th Regional Training Institute in the spring.
The South Africans were invited to send personnel to the Future Leaders Course, which develops junior non-commissioned officers, Natali said.
They were also invited to send trainers to the Tactical Athletes Course, which focuses on helping Soldiers develop their physical fitness.
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