July 31, 2008

Virginia Guard hosts Disaster Response Information Exchange

By Capt. Dayna Rowden
Virginia Guard Public Affairs


Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the 34th Civil Support Team explain the purpose of their equipment to Tajik officers through an interpreter. (Photo by Capt. Dayna Rowden, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

In an effort to foster mutual interests to establish a long-term relationship that will link the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Republic of Tajikistan across all levels of society, the Virginia National Guard hosted a Disaster Response Information Exchange in Richmond, Va., on July 21-25.

As part of the National Guard State Partnership program, six officers from the Ministry of Defense and Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defense of the Republic of Tajikistan traveled to Virginia to observe Civil Support Team exercises.

The State Department had a program to fund and train Tajik emergency responders in a HAZMAT-type response unit. The State Department purchased about $600,00 worth of equipment similar to the equipment the Virginia National Guard CST uses. Through the State Partnership Program, Virginia National Guard Soldiers traveled to Tajikistan three times to train them on the new equipment.

This visit was a follow-on for the officers to observe the Civil Support Team exercises, at the Richmond International Airport and the Richmond International Raceway, and how the team demonstrates interagency cooperation between the Virginia National Guard and the police and fire departments and other state emergency responders.

The State Partnership Program evolved in Europe 1993 with break-up of former Soviet Republic. The U.S. State Dept. desired for a low profile U.S. military presence in the Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and other former Soviet block countries.

The Secretary of Defense tasked the National Guard to establish a military to military contact program. These partnerships expanded globally. By spring 2008, there were 56 partnerships, including five in Central Asia. Two partnerships are pending in Africa.

The Virginia-Tajikistan partnership was established in 2003. Tajikistan is one of the smallest and poorest of the former Soviet republics in the Central Asian States region. Its economy and national morale still suffer from effects of five years of civil war between the secular government and Islamic fundamentalist opposition. The U.S. is the largest bilateral donor and the key supporter of an independent and stable Tajikistan.

The humanitarian situation is precarious, with annual disaster situations, usually landslides, affecting the health and welfare of its citizens. The Virginia National Guard helps out by providing medical exchanges through Operation ‘Provide Hope’ and Combat Life Saver training; non-commissioned officer training, development, and education; Civil Support Team development; staff development; border security; senior leader visits; and emergency preparedness and disaster response.

The Tajik officers were treated to visits to local shopping malls, Virginia Beach and Wal-Mart.

“They loved Wal-Mart,” said Maj. Tim Pillion, State Partnership director. “They spent a few hours there Wednesday night.”

“The country is double landlocked, and many of these officers haven’t seen anything bigger than a lake or a river,” said Pillion. “I’m pretty excited about showing them Virginia Beach and telling them about the historical sites along the way.”

The Tajik officers enjoyed their visit, said Pillion, and this program is an excellent opportunity for us to share of knowledge and to learn more about another culture.

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