|Tongan Brig. Gen. Tau’aika Uta’atu and Brig. Gen. Willliam Burks of Nevada welcome the joining of their respective militaries through the National Guard State Partnership Program. Image: Jay M. Chu, US Navy.|
Under the State Partnership program, the National Guards of US states partner with counterparts around the world to improve the security of both their countries. To date, there are eight partnerships between National Guards and their counterparts in Asia: Alaska-Mongolia; Hawai‘i-Philippines; Hawai‘i-Indonesia; Idaho-Cambodia; Oregon-Bangladesh; Oregon-Vietnam; Washington-Thailand; and the newly established partnership between Nevada and Tonga, which began this year.
This is by no means the first time that Tonga and the United States have joined forces to improve global security. It has contributed troops to serve alongside US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and under a security partnership it is allowed to have Navy officials ride along on US Coast Guard vessels. By entering into this partnership with Nevada’s National Guard, Tonga has become the first South Pacific country to enter the State Partnership program.
A landlocked state and an island nation may appear to have little in common as far as security is concerned. In fact, both face similar difficulties in maintaining security in large swaths of uninhabited territory that makes delivery of basic government services and humanitarian relief especially challenging. This was a key component in a recent mission by Nevadan National Guard members to Tonga, during which the Guard members provided medical and civil engineering assistance to Tongans.
In August, a Tongan delegation headed by Brig. Gen. Tau’aika Uta Atu reciprocated by coming to Nevada. During their stay in Carson City, they visited the Nevadan National Guard facility, the Joint Operation Center and Emergency Command Center. While in Reno, the delegation met with the 152 Airlift Wing, which included a tour of the aircraft hangar and demonstrations in the 152nd Secure Force Squadron’s indoor shooting range. After their visit to Nevada, the Tongan delegation attended the 136th General Conference & Exhibition in Chicago, IL, which is run by the National Guard Association of the United States. Nevada plans to send another delegation to Tonga in September.
Sarah Batiuk is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC.