Story by Staff Sgt. Zachary Sheely, Colorado National Guard
Thousands of people attended the 141st General Conference and Exhibition of the National Guard Association of the United States, held at the Colorado Convention Center, in Denver, Colorado, Labor Day Weekend, Aug. 31 - Sept. 2, 2019.
Among them, two delegations represented the Colorado National Guard’s partners from the Republic of Slovenia and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
These delegations, comprised of senior military leaders and government officials, link to the CONG through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. The two nations combined have participated in excess of 500 engagements to enhance military and disaster response capabilities.
“For Slovenia, it is very important to have excellent relations with the United States and the state of Colorado,” His Excellency, the Minister of Defense of Slovenia, Karl Viktor Erjavec said. “We are close friends, NATO allies, and strategic partners.”
Representatives from Slovenia included Erjavec, on his first official visit to Colorado as Slovenia’s defense minister, His Excellency Stanislav Vidovic, the Slovenian ambassador to the U.S., and Slovenia’s most senior military leader, Maj. Gen. Alenka Ermenc, the Slovenian Armed Forces Chairman of Defense, among others. The CONG’s partnership with Slovenia has spanned more than 26 years, with friendships spanning careers.
The Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army delegates included Brig. Gen. Helal Khawaldeh, Brig. Gen. Mohamad Kasasbeh, and the JAF Senior Enlisted Leader Command Sgt. Maj. Salem Mostafa. The SPP between Colorado and Jordan is a strategic relationship that has facilitated increased capacity, interoperability and integration during coalition operations and exercises over the last 15 years. It is the only SPP relationship in the Levant region of the Middle East.
“We are so honored to host our partners here in Colorado,” The Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mike Loh said. “We have trained with them and gone to war with them. We consider them our brothers and sisters.”
Loh said the visit was the culmination of much planning, deliberately timed to coincide with the conference and the CONG’s annual Alpine Guard exercise, occurring concurrently in order to exercise critical and distinct domestic operations capabilities.
This allowed each nation’s respective leaders an opportunity to meet with the Chief, National Guard Bureau, U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, Aug. 31, before his address at the convention center.
Lengyel emphasized to the delegates the mutual value of this cooperation.
“I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished in these partnerships,” Lengyel said. “The Colorado National Guard does an excellent job and is one of our premier National Guard states. Think of Maj. Gen. Loh as your key to not just the Colorado National Guard, but the National Guard as a whole.”
The trip also included a facilities tour showcasing the CONG’s broad operational capabilities.
At the conference, the delegates received an up-close look at the strategic planning and coordination that takes place at the organizational, state, and national levels of the Department of Defense.
The delegations together totaled approximately 20 members. They arrived at the CONG’s Joint Force Headquarters in Centennial Aug. 28. Loh then dedicated a kozelec, or hay rack – iconic of the Slovenian countryside – that stands in the plaza of JFHQ-CO as a symbol of Colorado and Slovenia’s partnership. The kozelec stands only feet away from a Linden tree, a prior gift from Slovenia.
From there, delegates traveled aboard four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters on a whirlwind tour of CONG facilities, including the High-Altitude Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, as well as the Army Aviation Support Facility, and headquarters of the Colorado Air National Guard’s 140th Wing, both at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora.
The Jordanians then flew to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where they had lunch with USAFA cadets from the Royal Jordanian Air Force.
“I had a chance to meet with the Jordanian cadets in the U.S. Air Force Academy to wish them success and urge them to do their best and take full advantage of the opportunities this world-renowned establishment has to offer,” Khawaldeh, JAF assistant to the chairman for planning and organization, said.
The Slovenes visited Pueblo Community College in Pueblo where they met with members of the large Slovenian community there.
“The Slovenian community here in Pueblo is a very important tie for the relations between Slovenia and the United States,” Erjavec said. “I am surprised at the very warm welcome we had here in Pueblo, and I will never forget this event.”
The delegations met with Betsy Markey, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, at the State Capitol Aug. 29. From there, they joined Colorado Gov. Jared Polis for lunch in the executive residence at the Boettcher Mansion in Denver.
While the CONG’s partnership with each nation is military-to-military in nature, these meetings introduced delegates to members of the government, leveraging the Guard's local and state relationships to facilitate civilian-to-military and civilian-to-civilian networks in support of bilateral national interests.
The delegations departed Colorado Sept. 1, but said they plan for the relationship to endure and grow, as future engagements continue.
“We have long traditions with the Colorado National Guard,” Erjavec said. “They have a lot of experience and best practices, and, for us, it is very important. We are very much interested to continue our cooperation.”