N.H. National Guard's Bilateral Affairs Officer Building Lasting Relationships in El Salvador
By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Johnson , 157th Refueling Wing
/ Published June 05, 2013
San Salvador, El Salvador -- Over the past two years Capt. Jose Mendez, has been building lasting relationships with the Salvadoran people as the Bilateral Affairs Officer for the New Hampshire National Guard.
The BAO is the link in the chain that makes up New Hampshire's State Partnership Program with El Salvador. The partnership, in affect since 2000, has produced subject matter expert exchanges between New Hampshire and El Salvador involving military to military and military to civilian professional exchanges. These exchanges are based on building lasting relationships between the two groups. Past exchanges have involved work with schools, emergency management, and military mountain skills. Mendez is key in coordinating these exchanges.
"The reason why the 12-year-old state partnership program between New Hampshire and El Salvador has worked is the nature of the exchanges," said Mendez. "When the New Hampshire National Guard comes down for an exchange involving natural disasters they bring with them the knowledge of how New Hampshire works. During the exchange, both groups exchange good ideas based on one another's experiences."
Mendez sees this as, "one of the biggest contributions to the State Partnership Program. This is why the relationship between El Salvador and New Hampshire is so successful."
Mendez sees his job as building good communication networks between New Hampshire, the Salvadoran military, and civilian authorities.
Col. Carlos Figueroa, the Senior Defense Officer and Defense Attaché for the United States Southern Command, US Security Operation Office in El Salvador, oversees the position of the BAO. Figueroa described the importance of having a BAO in El Salvador on a two-year tour.
"You have a direct link between El Salvador's military and the New Hampshire National Guard, with the BAO we have continuity because the officer is a direct day-to-day representative of the state of New Hampshire," said Figueroa.
The BAO is instrumental in developing the subject matter expert exchanges that are the basis for the lasting relationships. Developing a SMEE starts with a request generated by either the Salvadorans or the NHNG. The requests are then staffed with senior representatives from Army South, the Salvadoran military and the NHNG. Through bilateral talks the requests are transformed into mutually beneficial activities. The BAO will then communicates the requests to the N.H. International Affairs Officer where it is determined what activities will be most beneficial for both the Salvadorans and the NHNG.
"There is a lot of focus where we are actually trying to build capacity in certain areas instead of just doing random exchanges," said Lt. Col. Maclean, the Army Section Chief and Deputy Military Group Commander.
Mendez has coordinated eight activities involving the New Hampshire State Partnership Program since the beginning of this fiscal year. These activities have built lasting relationships between members of the New Hampshire National Guard and the Salvadoran air traffic controllers, police force, Salvadoran commandos, and computer network specialists. Additionally, senior leaders from both countries have participated in bilateral affairs talks and a senior leader orientation.
"Building these lasting relationships allow our guard members and the Salvadoran Military to exchange information that allows both to become more aware of the world outside of their prospective country and allows them to realize how other cultures behave and how they work," said Mendez.
With his assignment coming to an end, Mendez reported, "I will miss the teamwork and camaraderie that exist here. However, he reported, "I will have more time with my wife of nine years and my three children who live in Puerto Rico, eventually moving them to New Hampshire."