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NEWS | Feb. 13, 2024

Kentucky Guard hosts Ecuadorian military for leader engagement

By Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Crane, Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs

Senior leaders from the Kentucky National Guard welcomed a group of military personnel from the Armed Forces of Ecuador for a Leader Engagement as part of our State Partnership Program Jan. 30 to Feb. 1.  

Eight senior ranking officials representing Ecuador’s Army, Navy and Air Force got to hear and see what the Kentucky National Guard was about and build bonds between the two countries that are beneficial to both countries.  

Ecuador has been a partner with Kentucky since 1996 and opened the door to engagements like this one with the aim to connect the Commonwealth with these nations to enhance interoperability, expand U.S. influence and access and boost the readiness of both forces to address shared challenges.  

During the four-day visit, the Ecuadorians visited multiple locations in Frankfort, they participated in capability briefings by the Kentucky Army National Guard and Kentucky Emergency Management, toured the capitol, and had a highlight visit with Governor Andy Beshear. 

They also visited Airmen at the 123rd Airlift Wing in Louisville to exchange information and learn about the Kentucky Air Guard’s roles in supporting U.S. military operations around the world while also serving the Commonwealth of Kentucky during times of crisis or natural disaster. 

Over the last few years, Kentucky and Ecuador have faced many of the same challenges, from civil unrest to flooding.  

Because of that, a leadership engagement with members of the Lexington Fire Training Center was included. While there, Ecuadorian leaders were able to view static displays of the rescue equipment and boats available to the fire department and its search and rescue teams. 

Learning about the Commonwealth’s modern search and rescue equipment meant a lot to the leader of the Ecuadorian armed forces. 

 “I don't have a lot of information as far as this equipment,” said Admiral Jaime Vela Erazo, Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces, when sharing his thoughts on the rescue truck and watercraft he saw. “But I do like and enjoy the capabilities that they have here in the event that there's a natural disaster.” 

Both countries’ military leaders commented that this international partnership is more than just discussing new technologies and equipment.  

“There's not necessarily one right way to conduct military operations,” Maj. Gen. Haldane Lamberton, the adjutant general of Kentucky said. “We learn from the military in Ecuador. They learn how we do things, and it works out terrifically well for an integrated dynamic of sharing information.” 

After the visit to the Fire Academy, they were flown over eastern Kentucky in a UH-60 Black Hawk for a window tour of the areas hit hardest during the flooding of 2022. Their discussions continued while visiting the airport in Hazard that served as the command post during Kentucky’s response to that natural disaster. 

Following the flight back to the Kentucky National Guard Headquarters in Frankfort, the Ecuadorian contingent finished their day with Kentucky leaders as Lamberton and Erazo signed a new memorandum of agreement that continues the partnership into 2026.  

“What we have is that agreement between your joint planning team at CAMACO and the joint planning team from Kentucky, and they are in these two documents the 2025 and 2026 engagement schedule between Ecuador and Kentucky. This memorandum of agreement is just for the next two years,” said Lt. Col. Dan Cooper, Kentucky’s SPP director.  

After the final event was over, there was a traditional gift exchange between the senior leaders. 

Erazo shared his appreciation to the Kentucky National Guard and was happy for the memories and small gifts he will have to take back.  

“I take these in my heart back to my country and I gratefully thank you,” he said.   

As for the Kentucky Guardsmen that were there with their Ecuadorian counterpart, the visit meant a lot to them, as well.  

“It's wonderful to be involved [with the key leader engagement],” said Col. Tim Starke, director of operations for the KYARNG.  “I enjoy every time I get an opportunity to participate in the state partnership program, whether it's here in Kentucky or going to Ecuador, which is a beautiful, awesome country. I feel like this week has gone really well because we've enabled our partners to meet Soldiers and Airmen to see the people who actually operate the equipment and conduct the missions, and hear directly from them about how we’re moving forward as an organization.” 

Engaging in one-on-one conversations throughout the week provided each leader with an opportunity to learn from their peers and share insights and strategies to enhance the effectiveness of training methods.  

State Command Chief Master Sgt. James Tongate, the senior non-commissioned officer for Kentucky’s Air Guard, exchanged non-commissioned officer matters with the Ecuadorian Chief Master Sergeant for the Air Force about the roles in the Ecuadorian Armed Forces. 

“It was eye-opening,” said Tongate. “Their senior NCOs do not have the same type of authority we have here; they become planners when they get to that stage and the generals still make all the decisions. Command Sgt. Major Withers and I were partnered with their SEO and their generals to show that NCOs are the backbone of any nation.  These are the things that we're doing: we're setting up building blocks for the overall development of their NCOs.” 

Along with the many lessons learned, Tongate praised his counterparts and shared what impressed him the most. 

“The Ecuadorians have a passion, and the love they show is second to none. Their passion, though, is just phenomenal.” 

For more than 30 years, the National Guard Bureau’s state partnership has fostered international military relations and growing cooperation between the U.S. and partner nations. The program provides a mutually beneficial connection between nations and a unique opportunity for our service men and women to engage in valuable knowledge, experience, and cultural exchanges.  

Since the partnership started in 1996, Soldiers and Airmen from the Kentucky National Guard have engaged with their Ecuadorian counterparts both in Kentucky and Ecuador. Previous highlights include joint training exercises, collaborative projects both in engineering and medical fields, and cultural exchanges that have enriched the understanding and skills of both the Kentucky Guard and the Ecuadorian military. 

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