Security and Community Ties Thrive In Hawai‘i-Indonesia National Guard Exchange

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by Ethan Kannel
Brigadier General Bruce Oliveira shakes hands with Brigadier General Tatang Sulaiman at the conclusion of the Garuda Shield Training Exercise Photo: Brooks Fletcher/US Army

Hawai‘i and Indonesia have a partnership extending back to 2006, one of eight such partnerships between the National Guard corps of US states and certain Asian countries. The number is growing partly as a result of President Obama’s rebalance toward Asia policy, such as in Nevada’s new relationship with Tonga. Both sides of each partnership have a great deal to learn from the other, due to different security realities, geographical distinctions, and strategic cultures.

One aspect of this particular partnership is a military training exercise called Garuda Shield, which provides the opportunity for Hawaiian and Indonesian troops to participate in joint training, through combat and non-combat missions. The operation was held in Indonesia, and is meant to both build comradery and improve practical skills.  The training was based on a joint United Nations peacekeeping scenario. Both sides practiced hard skills such as jungle survival and navigation, as well as field triage. One significant focus of the joint operation was to improve the decision making process between the two commands.  The two sides not only speak a different language, but also use different signals on the field. In addition, the Garuda Shield Facebook page shows pictures of volleyball games, soccer matches, and a fierce game of tug-of-war.

The Garuda Shield project has been well received by the Indonesian public, thanks to its public service components.  Last year, the Hawai‘i National Guard and the Tentara Nasional Indonesia (TNI) co-hosted a free medical clinic in Indonesia, providing medical treatment and screening to over 200 residents. In addition to treating illnesses, they also taught local residents how to identify and treat common colds, practice basic disease prevention, and perform techniques such as the Heimlich maneuver.

As one of the earlier US-Asia National Guard partnerships to be established, the successes of this relationship and others like it can serve as a positive example for new states looking to build bonds across the Pacific.

Ethan Kannel is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a junior at Cornell University