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Tongan delegation impressed with Nevada Guard, Silver State

Brig. Gen. Tau’aika ‘Uta’atu, Tonga’s top military official, boards a Nevada Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Stead for a tour of northern Nevada on Aug. 19. 'Uta'atu wrapped up his tour of Nevada Guard facilities Wednesday after visiting the 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno.  Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Getten, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

Brig. Gen. Tau’aika ‘Uta’atu, Tonga’s top military official, boards a Nevada Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Stead for a tour of northern Nevada on Aug. 19. 'Uta'atu wrapped up his tour of Nevada Guard facilities Wednesday after visiting the 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno. Photo by Staff Sgt. Mike Getten, Joint Force Headquarters Public Affairs

RENO -- Like millions of other first-time visitors to the Silver State before him, Brig. Gen. Tau'aika 'Uta'atu, Tonga's top military official, gained a new appreciation for Nevada's people and resources on his initial visit to Nevada. The Nevada portion of his trip to the United States under the auspice of the National Guard's State Partnership Program concluded Wednesday after a stop at the 152nd Airlift Wing in Reno.

On his final day in northern Nevada, 'Uta'atu took a tour of the Nevada Air National Guard base in Reno hosted by 152nd Airlift Wing staff. The tour began with an inspection of a C-130 aircraft, a review of the maintenance hangar and a visit to the 152nd Civil Engineer Squadron's modern firehouse.

The Tongan general then inspected Nevada Counterdrug equipment and Nevada's Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and high-yield Explosives Enhanced Response Force Package unit. Subsequently, he took a tour of the 152nd Logistics Readiness Squadron's vehicle maintenance building and the 152nd Security Forces Squadron's Modular Containerized Small Arms Training Set, a state-of-the-art indoor shooting range.

"I'm very impressed with Nevada," 'Uta'atu said Tuesday following an Army aviation orientation flight. "I'm amazed by the facilities we have seen and all the people we've encountered, ranging from the hotel staff to the Nevada Guard leadership to the Soldiers we've met."

The Tongan delegation of three that included Lt. Col. Lord Ve'ehala and Sr. Warrant Officer Pakofe Kava toured Nevada Guard facilities, met with Gov. Brian Sandoval's staff, and spent several hours with Reno-based Tongan community leaders during the northern Nevada portion of their trip.

In September, Nevada will send a delegation to Tonga.

"Next month, we will host the Nevada military in Tonga," said 'Uta'atu. "We will be planning for future exchanges between Nevada and Tonga."

The Nevada Guard and Tonga entered into their State Partnership Program agreement in April. The pact is the newest official relationship in the program, a Department of Defense function that links a state's National Guard with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial agreement.

Brig. Gen. Bill Burks, Nevada's Adjutant General, said Nevada is an ideal partner for Tonga because both face similar challenges.

"Nevada and Tonga both have population centers separated by vast expanses of land or water.," Burks said "In a contingency situation, we both must overcome similar difficulties created by the vast areas between our population centers."

The early exchanges between the two parties are focusing on planning for future training exchanges.

Both generals agreed the partnership is gaining momentum.

"In the beginning phase of this partnership, we are looking at 6-8 exchanges per year," Burks said. "We aim to focus on medical, legal, enlisted development, engineering, environmental and renewable energy exchanges in the future as well as joint military exercises, too.

"We are only limited by our imaginations on how we can expand this partnership in the future."

"I hope the momentum continues," 'Uta'atu said. "I can see a lot of opportunities for us to work together, not only for us in the military, but for all Tongans and Nevadans."