Wisconsin Army National Guard leaders visit Nicaraguan military, share importance of enlisted leadership
By Army Staff Sgt. Emily J. Russell
Wisconsin National Guard
April 23, 2010 - Enlisted leaders from the Wisconsin Army National Guard traveled to Managua, Nicaragua in mid-April to emphasize the importance of enlisted leadership in the Nicaraguan military.
Four sergeants major from the Wisconsin Guard, with more than 80 years of combined military leadership experience, visited with students and staff of the Andres Castro National School of Sergeants (ENSAC) in Managua to talk about the significance of non-commissioned officers and the important role they play in the U.S. military.
"We coordinate exchanges between members of the Wisconsin National Guard and other government agencies, like Wisconsin Emergency Management," said State Partnership Program (SPP) coordinator Capt. Joe Davison. "The program is about sharing experience and exchanging information on the techniques each force uses in a variety of focus areas.
During the visit, State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper, and Command Sgts. Maj. Brad Shields, Paul Easterday and Ralph Rosemore, gave presentations about rank structure, non-commissioned officer (NCO) development, mentorship and counseling techniques.
"We train them on our basic NCO skills, support channel and what we do as NCOs," said Easterday, of the 426th Regional Training Institute Regiment. "We share information overall about our techniques, tactics and skills that we teach our NCOs."
Stopper has participated in several SPP exchanges and says he has seen a lot of progress in the organization and utilization of the Nicaraguan NCO corps, but recognizes there's still a lot of work ahead.
"When this program started, one of the goals was to convince senior leaders of the net-worth and value of a non-commissioned officer and how they could assist the leaders in running the military.
"I think that goal has progressed greatly and is evident by the way the [academy] commandant and other officers at the academy treat us," Stopper continued. "They treat us with a high degree of respect and always welcome us and continue to ask us for more training and different topics.
Almost all of the topics are dealing with leadership and how to mentor soldiers into developing the skills they want to see in the future."
The National Guard has 373 years of experience to share and the Nicaraguan Army is just over 30 years old as an organization. "We have experience and knowledge that can make their lives a little simpler," Stopper said.
"We have a system that works and NCOs are absolutely a necessity to have a well-run and effective military," Stopper added. "That's what we're trying to share with them, how we make leaders: effective counseling, mentorship and how to get the most out of our people."
For the first time, the Nicaraguan Army is proposing three new senior non-commissioned officer ranks. Currently they only have three NCO ranks which are the equivalent to the Army's sergeant, staff sergeant and sergeant first class. They are considering applying three levels of sergeant major to their military.
"We're not trying to change them or make them mirrored to us," Stopper explained. "However, after several hundred years of experience this is where we've ended up. If we can help them avoid some of the wrong turns in getting from point 'a' to point 'b' I think it's our duty and obligation to try and help them."
Members of the Nicaraguan NCO academy staff as well as students recognize the significance of the partnership and hope to develop more exchanges in the future where Nicaraguan soldiers can attend U.S. Army schools to train in specific areas and receive hands-on training.
"I hope that we can get support for the Nicaraguan Army to train at the Wisconsin Academy," said ENSAC Deputy Commandant Col. Julio Rodriguez. "It is important to us to learn how the U.S. Army conducts business. There's a lot we've received from each exchange and it's important to continue training the NCOs to develop them in their career. They are the backbone of our Army and it's important for them to know everything they need to perform their jobs."
Each year, nearly 1,200 Nicaraguan service members attend the non-commissioned officer school which has approximately 50 instructors, half of whom are officers and the rest civilian contractors.
"I value the experience that the [Wisconsin National Guard] has gained through their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and value the time they take to come to Nicaragua to share that knowledge with my soldiers," said ENSAC Commandant Oscar Solorzano. "Even though we live in a time of peace, they're required to be ready to take any action any time, so this [partnership] is invaluable."
The state partnership program was established following the National Guard Bureau's 1993 proposal to match State National Guards with countries to provide military-to-military support and mentorship to developing countries.
With strong civilian ties already in place from an existing partnership established in 1964 through Partners of the Americas, the Wisconsin National Guard applied for partnership with the Republic of Nicaragua, under the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, in 2003.
For seven years the Wisconsin - Nicaragua SPP has flourished as it gains more support from NGB and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) in the goal to share knowledge, best practices and experience while building closer ties between the two militaries.
State Partnership Program Coordinator Capt. Joe Davison explained that after the Cold War, the U.S. European command wanted to engage with developing countries - whose democracies were fragile - and help them develop their military in a way that was suitable to their democracy, free from corruption. Through a program called "Partners of the Americas," Wisconsin and Nicaragua have forged one of the strongest relationships through the city-to-city pairing of Wisconsin and Nicaraguan cities.
"The National Guard is unique in its ability to do a military exchange because of its longevity where the same people can participate year after year, and build long-term relationships," Davison said. "We have experience working with civilian agencies within the state and those relationships are important for our partner countries to develop as well."
"The State Partnership Program is an awesome program," Stopper said. "The Nicaraguan Soldiers, Airmen and [Sailors] are great people - very dedicated and hard working. It's good to have the information exchanged between the two countries because I think we can learn from them as well as pass on our years of experience."