Azerbaijanis meet with Natl. Guard

OKLAHOMA CITY– Oklahoma National Guard leaders met with Azerbaijani military leadership in two events recently to strengthen relationships as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP).

Brig. Gen. Michael C. Thompson, assistant adjutant general, Army for Oklahoma, met with Azerbaijani military members in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 26 and 27.

“They have chosen to have a relationship with the United States,” Thompson said after meeting. “The better the relationship, the better it is for us in terms of stability.”

Thompson attended on behalf of Maj. Gen. Robbie L. Asher, the adjutant general for Oklahoma. Thompson met with the Ministry of Defense of Azerbaijan for bilateral discussions to “discuss options for strengthening and expanding partnership initiatives between the Government of Azerbaijan and the Oklahoma National Guard.

“It’s a long trip, but the human interaction is critical for developing relationships,” Thompson said. “Meeting face-to-face is much more effective than trying to communicate by e-mail or video teleconference alone.”

Asher explained he was grateful for Thompson’s participation in this important Guard effort.  “Mike is an extremely busy man and as the leader of the Department of Public Safety, I know it’s difficult for him to get away, especially when so many things are happening at the State Capitol,” Asher said.  “But Mike stepped up, like he has for three decades, and represented the Oklahoma National Guard and our state at these important meetings.”

Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the commanding general for U.S. Army Europe, also attended the discussions hosted by the U.S. Embassy country team. The consultations are critical to keeping an established relationship with Azerbaijan which is located geographically between Iran and Russia.

“The biggest issue for them (Azerbaijani’s) is stability,” Thompson said. “The fact we have had a full-time liaison there for 12 years is a sign we are there for the long term.”

The day after Thompson’s visit in Azerbaijan was the Republic Day of Azerbaijan and an Oklahoma National Guard delegation attended a ceremony in Washington, D.C. The delegation was led by Oklahoma Air National Guard, Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Ryan.

The ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan, H.E. Elin Suleymanov, hosted the gathering. The event featured speakers from Azerbaijan, the U.S. State Department and Ryan, who serves as Assistant Adjutant General, Air for Oklahoma.

Maj. Robert Mathews, who helps with international affairs for the Oklahoma National Guard, attended the get-together with Ryan. He said the Oklahoma National Guard partnership with Azerbaijan is strong.

“We participated in the process, not just the viewing of the ceremony,” Mathews said. “This trip helped strengthen our partnership and continues our open channels of communications.”

The National Guard SPP was created to “minimize instability and encourage democracy in the former Soviet bloc nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”

The Oklahoma National Guard SPP was developed in 2002, with 14 years of events and partnering according to Oklahoma National Guard State Partnership Program Director, Lt. Col. Kenneth Mitchell.