A delegation of officials from the Pacific Island nation of Tonga finished a week-long tour of Nevada to celebrate a signed partnership.
It’s part of the State Partnership Program and links the two entities through the Nevada National Guard and the Tongan military.
Brig. Gen. Tau’aika ‘Uta’atu, commander of Tonga’s armed forces, two of his staff and officials from the Tongan consulate in San Francisco came to work with Nevada Adjutant Gen. Bill Burks on not just military cooperation and exchange but cultural, economic and other issues. Burks said this is the first delegation to visit Nevada since the partnership was signed in April.
Gen. ‘Uta’atu said the Tongan people have had a history of working together since World War II and, in 1972, established cooperative agreements with American defense.
He pointed out that Tonga was one of 59 countries to support the Iraqi war.
“Not just support,” he said. “We also sent troops.”
Tongan troops, he said, also served in Afghanistan.
He said the relationship with America is healthy and will expand and improve with the new agreement.
Burks said Nevada is an ideal partner for Tonga.
Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka, public affairs officer for the Nevada National Guard, said the two share similar issues with metropolitan areas and areas of sparse population.
“Except we’re separated by desert, and they’re separated by water,” Studenicka said.
The delegation arrived in Nevada on Saturday. They have since visited with Nevada’s emergency management officials, tourism officials and, Sunday, attended church services with members of Nevada’s Tongan population in Reno.
The delegation also were planning a trip to a Basque restaurant this week along with a tour of Nevada’s Army Guard facilities and a tour of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle activities in Northern Nevada.
Burks said some Nevada guardsmen will travel to Tonga in September for a visit.
As they toured the state Capitol, Burks pointed out that Nevada is approaching its 150th birthday as a state.
Gen. ‘Uta’atu pointed out that the kingdom of Tonga has been around for about 2,000 years.
Tonga is a nation of about 170 islands two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand. It is home to about 120,000 people with a military, ‘Uta’atu said, total about 800 men.