MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
During my time at Intermediate Development Course, I was fortunate enough to hear Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, speak about the status of the Air National Guard and his vision for our collective future. After he spoke, I asked Gen. Lengyel what part he thought the Air National Guard would play with the rise of ‘gray zone’ conflicts around the world. That is, how will we support U.S. policy abroad in regions where conflicts fall short of traditional war? His answer was twofold. First, America’s Army and Air National Guard possess the talent, resources, and capabilities to serve as a highly capable operational force. Unlike many of our adversaries, we are not a strategic defensive reserve force.
That part of his answer wasn’t surprising. Having deployed twice in my career with the Swamp Foxes, I can attest first-hand how our men and women provide world-class combat capability.
What was surprising to me at least, was Gen. Lengyel then stated that the National Guard provides the best soft power the U.S. possesses – through the State Partnership Program. When Guard units “plant the flag” in partner nations to support cultural exchanges and enhanced training, they are doing more than simply strengthening relationships. They are signaling to others in the region our commitment to our allies while supporting Combatant Commanders’ security cooperation objectives and U.S. national security goals.
Recently, I traveled with 169th Fighter Wing Swamp Foxes to our partner nation, the Republic of Colombia, for Exercise Relampago IV (in English – Flash of Lightning). We also provided static aircraft during their 2019 Feria Aeronautica Internacional (F-AIR) Colombia airshow, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Colombian Air Force. It was a chance to highlight and enhance the positive and growing partnership between our two countries, as well as provide continued training opportunities for our operational forces. It was during this recent trip that Gen. Lengyel’s comments came back to me in a very real way. I was able to witness that our participation was not only supporting the ongoing development of our relationship to Colombia, but we were signaling to other nations our support and commitment to peace in the region. Based on the media coverage of our trip – we were extremely successful in all of these pursuits.
On the day we traveled to Rionegro, Colombia, USSOUTHCOM published an article in Air Force Magazine stating that U.S. Southern Command Chief Adm. Craig Faller has argued for daily U.S. presence in the region to push back against Chinese, Russian, and Iranian influence. By contributing to intelligence-sharing and education at a mil-to-mil level, we can enhance each other’s situational awareness and strengthen our understanding of the opportunities and challenges presented to us. These benefits encourage countries in the region to “stick with the U.S. instead of turning to foreign militaries.” Media coverage of our participation in F-AIR, overwhelmingly positive, was noted throughout Colombia, across South America, and as far away as China.
The State Partnership Program is a critical platform that we, the 169th Fighter Wing, can use to support the U.S.’s national security goals. While participating in F-AIR and Relampago IV, the Swamp Foxes showed a level of professionalism and technical excellence, which took full advantage of this platform, to enhance our regional ties and highlight our capabilities and commitment to peace in the region. It was a great joy to witness our Airmen perform at the highest levels, in spite of a, at times humorous, language barrier. All members of the South Carolina Air National Guard need to understand that not only can we answer the call for full combat operations, but we serve larger strategic goals of supporting our country’s security objectives around the world.