News: Wyoming Guard’s partnership with Tunisia growing
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – The African nation of Tunisia and the Wyoming National Guard are furthering their relationship a year after a Tunisian revolution kicked off the Arab Spring.
The two countries were paired together in 2004, through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. It was an endeavor to match states with nations of compatible interests, economies and other factors. Initial relationships were between military leaders and grew to incorporate civilian endeavors.
Some of those endeavors and exchanges between the Wyoming National Guard and Tunisia were temporarily halted Dec. 18, 2010, as an uprising by Tunisian residents and subsequent overthrow of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took place. Personnel assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia were evacuated until the civil unrest died down.
The Wyoming National Guard has two personnel assigned to the program. One is based in Tunisia, assigned as the bilateral affairs officer in the U.S. Embassy’s Office of Security Cooperation. The other is based in Cheyenne as the Wyoming coordinator for the State Partnership Program, coordinating military, cultural and other events.
“The word that comes to mind is ‘transition,’” said Maj. Corey Jones, who recently completed his assignment as the state coordinator. He said the future of the relationship between Wyoming and Tunisia is a matter of what changes occur in the African country.
“The question is to what level the new Tunisian government is going to continue to expand,” Jones said.
Capt. Eric McCoy is the officer assigned to help Wyoming facilitate those possibilities. He took over the position from Jones in January and said he spent the past two months working with the United States Africa Command, the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and the National Guard Bureau, as exchanges and cooperation with Tunisia ramp up.
“It is absolutely fascinating with what we can do with the relationships we’ve built,” McCoy said. “What we’re currently working on is trying to get Tunisians to develop a five-year-plan, a mission on how they want to develop their [military] organization and ways that we can help them.”
The partnership began with similarities on the military side, he said. Both the Wyoming National Guard and the Tunisian military operate C-130s and field artillery. Both also deal with potentially harsh weather systems.
“[The Tunisian military’s] big concentration right now is developing their emergency reaction plans for natural disasters and such,” McCoy said of the current direction of the military exchanges.
Coordination extends beyond military discussions. Interagency and corollary events are the terms used to describe civilian exchanges and cooperation facilitated by the State Partnership Program, Jones said. This includes a relationship between the University of Wyoming, and the University of Sfax, in Tunisia, and relationships between municipal governments in Wyoming and Tunisia.
“Ultimately we will have a lot of engagements going on that we, as the military, don’t even know about due to the strong civilian-to-civilian partnerships and friendships that are growing,” said McCoy, “and the university is one of those things that prove that.”
The University of Wyoming recently extended opportunities for five Tunisian students to attend the school and complete bachelor’s degrees at the in-state tuition rate.
Jones said he also anticipates civilian relationship growth where there are mutual interests: wind power, agricultural irrigation and the tourism industry.
McCoy said the bilateral affairs officer is trying to coordinate a visit to Wyoming by representatives from Les Scouts Tunisiens (the Scouts of Tunisia) for a cultural exchange with the Boy Scouts of America.