Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard, with members of the Kingdom of Thailand military in Thailand. [Image: US National Guard]

Washington National Guard Celebrates its 20th Anniversary with the Royal Thai Armed Forces

ASEAN The Mekong Asia

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Washington and the Kingdom of Thailand in the State Guard Partnership administered by the National Guard Bureau. It also marks the first in-person exchange visit between the two-partner organization in two years due to the pandemic.

In late February, Brig. Gen. Gent Welsh, commander of the Washington Air National Guard, visited the two Washington National Guard partner countries, Malaysia and Thailand, with the latter dating back to 2002 as part of its State Guard Partnership Program. Last spring, the Washington National Guard Aviation conducted a month-long, two-part exercise with the Royal Thai Army’s Aviation units at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Fairchild Air Force Base and the Royal Thai Army Aviation Center in Lop Buri.

In addition to Welsh's visit that paved the ground for future collaborations between Thailand and the Washington National Guard, twenty members from the Washington National Guard took part in the Command Post Exercise portion of the annual Cobra Gold exercise.

This year's exercise consisted of three primary events: a command-and-control exercise, humanitarian civic assistance projects, and a field training exercise that includes a variety of training events to enhance interoperability and strengthen regional relationships. It also set expectations for the Cobra Gold 2023 exercise.

These exercises reaffirm the United States’ strong commitment to providing Thailand with security cooperation and support for long-term modernization, education and training, maritime security, humanitarian, and disaster relief capabilities under the 2020 Joint Vision Statement for the US-Thai Defense Alliance.

The Cobra Gold military exercise, first held in 1982, is one of the world’s longest-running exercises. The exercise illustrates the United States' commitment to Thailand and like-minded allies and partners (Singapore, South Korea, Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia) in the region to support a free Indo-Pacific, designed to advance regional security and ensure effective responses to regional crises. The military exercise is the foundation of the US-Thai alliance, which has been an important link since their relationship after the Vietnam War.

This celebration highlights the success and continued relationship of the State Guard Partnership. Established over 25 years, the program now includes 85 partnerships from 93 nations around the globe.

Narupat Rattanakit is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated with a BA from Thammasat University in 2020 and is currently pursuing his MA in US Foreign Policy and National Security with a regional focus in Southeast Asia at American University.