The Wisconsin National Guard revealed how it is trained and equipped to respond to domestic emergencies with four key leaders from the Nicaraguan military April 21-24.
The Nicaraguan offiers - Lt. Col. Moises Alexander Hodgson Harris, Lt. Col. Marlon Moreno, Lt. Col. Andres Abelino Rizo Gutierrez and Maj. Sergio Arturo Corrales - are members of the Nicaraguan Army branch of civil defense, and visited Wisconsin as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program.
"From my vantage point, the participants had a very favorable visit - despite the cool weather," said Capt. Katherine Berberich, an international partnership specialist with the Wisconsin Army National Guard. "The Wisconsin National Guard welcomed the Nicaraguan delegation wherever they went, demonstrating the sort of hospitality that is truly a unique connection between enduring partners like the Wisconsin National Guard and the Nicaraguan army."
In terms of civil defense, Nicaragua is considered a multi-threat nation - volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires and flooding all pose hazards that could require emergency response. While in Wisconsin, the Nicaraguan officers visited the Regional Emergency All-Climate Training (REACT) center at Volk Field, Wisconsin, which features a simulated collapsed structure used to train responders how to safely extricate victims. They also spent time with the 54th Civil Support Team, learning how that unit operates and their role in supporting local authorities.
Berberich said the Nicaraguan army civil defense branch is similar to the Wisconsin National Guard's Joint Operations, Plans and Training (J3/5/7) domestic operations directorate. However, domestic operations capabilities are concentrated under Joint Operations in Wisconsin, whereas in Nicaragua those capabilities - skilled personnel and assets - are distributed among different units.
The Nicaraguans expressed interest in learning how to identify hazardous materials transported by ship and trucks, search and rescue training and wildfire prevention. Mark Michie, vice chief of staff for the Wisconsin National Guard's Joint Staff, encouraged continuing senior leader visits to Wisconsin, but he also wanted younger Wisconsin National Guard members to train alongside younger Nicaraguan service members - either at the REACT center or perhaps with the Wisconsin National Guard's chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high explosive emergency response force package (CERFP).
"That's where the real learning takes place," Michie said. "This is a two-way street - when we take our Soldiers to Nicaragua, we learn, I think, just as much as you learn from us. You have a lot of different natural disasters you have to respond to. We're able to go down and learn from you as well."
Fourteen years ago, Michie was part of the Wisconsin National Guard's humanitarian school-building mission in Nicaragua.
"It's a great partnership for us to have," he continued. "Whatever we can do to strengthen it, we're committed to doing that."
Through a translator, the Nicaraguan officers expressed their appreciation, as well as goals for a training visit next year.
"Thank you for inviting us here from Nicaragua in brotherhood and friendship."