Missouri Guardsmen bridge gap between state partners

1st Sgt. Mary L. Williams

PANAMA CITY, Panama - When the Missouri National Guard works with its partner country Panama as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program there are Missouri Guardsmen liaison bridging the gap.

Lt. Col. Rebecca Segovia, the Missouri National Guard State Partnership Program director said it's nice having Missouri Guardsmen in such a high visibility position. As part of the partnership, the bi-lateral affairs officer plays an integral part in the relationship building process.

"They are working constantly as the go-between," said Segovia. "Without this person over there I couldn't do all this coordination."

Recently, Segovia escorted five Guardsmen from the Missouri National Guard public affairs office to Panama to participate in a four-day subject matter expert exchange with Panamanian officials from various government organizations. In coordinating and facilitating the event, three bi-lateral affairs officers - formally known as traditional commander activities coordinator - came together to assist with the exchange.

"There's a lot of detail that has to go into the process," Segovia said. "The bi-lateral affairs officer is my right hand for seamless communication and coordination to execute the program."

The bi-lateral liaison works in the Office of Defense Cooperation in the U.S. embassy in Panama, which oversees State Partnership Program engagements and other activities.

Segovia said for the exchange, the liaison handles most support activities and is essentially in charge of facilitating set-up, scheduling and location with the Panamanian partners. The liaison also acts as the primary point of contact. In the public affairs exchange, they also acted as translators.

Capt. Anthony Scheidel, who now serves with the 139th Airlift Wing, previously served in the position. He returned to Panama for the public affairs exchange to provide assistance. Scheidel said having a liaison in country makes all the difference.

"It's almost completely necessary - just to benefit from the partnership and to have that personal interaction," said Scheidel, who served in the position for more than a year. "Essentially, we have a representative at the table when we need to plan and initiate support."

"The partnership we have with Panama is one of the best partnerships we have," he added. "We work most of the time within the directorates here in Panama and if the state thinks they can fit a need we are here to help facilitate that."

The most recent exchange focused primarily on Missouri Guard public affairs practitioners providing insight on how the Guard public affairs office does business.

Segovia coordinated with Capt. Jonathan Holem, the out-going BAO who served in the position for over two years to ensure appropriate protocol measures are observed, facilitate country and theater clearances, customs processing and even coordinating cultural events.

Holem said he enjoys using his Spanish on a daily basis and facilitating a stronger relationship between the two countries.

"Without someone in this position there would be little face-to-face interaction," said Holem. "We have personal contact and we build relationships with the public forces."

Participating in the public affairs exchange, Holem said he enjoys supporting such events.

"I've been able to do that with events both in Missouri and Panama," said Holem, who helped coordinate the first annual state partnership program planning meeting. "It creates a way for us to work on coordination and communication.

Taking on the role of the next bi-lateral affairs officer is Capt. Juan Carlos Valencia.

"I expect to do the best I can, do a good job, and make this area of operations one of the best in the region" said Valencia. "I am pretty excited to be here, especially since I am able to bring my Family. They're pretty excited too. I would like to thank the 1140th Headquarters Company for all the support they have provided me during my company command that I just finished. I want to thank all those guys for their support."

Valencia comes with a year of experience as a traditional commander activities coordinator in Argentina and Panama while working with U.S. Southern Command.

Missouri officially became Panama's state partner in 1996 and has since conducted over 28 overseas Deployment for Training missions and over 75 State Partnership Program events since 2000. The program began to link National Guard states and territories with partner countries for the purpose of fostering mutual interests and establishing relationships that improves long-term international security while building partnership capacity across all levels of society.

The Missouri National Guard holds many events with the Panamanians both in Panama and in Missouri, ranging from 911 call centers to Law Enforcement training, vehicle maintenance, emergency response, aviation capabilities, the United States Justice System, Counter Drug Operations and the Department of Education.

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