Utah TAG makes farewell visit to Morocco

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Gary J. Rihn
Members of the Moroccan military bid a fond farewell to Maj. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet, The Adjutant General of Utah, during his annual visit to their country April 9-15. Tarbet has been an integral part of Utah's State Partnership Program (SPP) with the Kingdom of Morocco, and is scheduled to retire later this year.

Thirteen members of the Utah and South Carolina National Guard accompanied Tarbet on his final visit, including Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston, Jr, The Adjutant General for South Carolina, whose state is providing support for the F-16s Morocco recently purchased. The F-16s also receive air refueling support and training from KC-135 Airmen and tankers from the Utah Air National Guard.

Since 2003, the Utah TAG has made annual visits to Morocco to celebrate and strengthen the SPP. The SPP is one of 63 programs throughout the globe, one of only eight in Africa and is the first with a Muslim country. Utah's partnership with Morocco has been one of the most active partnerships on the continent, and the state has conducted more than 120 significant SPP events since its inception.

A highlight of this year's trip was the presentation of The Order of Ouissam Alaouite to Tarbet. This distinguished decoration is bestowed by the King of Morocco upon those civilians and military officers who have displayed heroism in combat or have contributed meritorious service to the Moroccan state.

"General Tarbet has made incredible advancements in the partnership program during his tenure as TAG, and has earned great respect from the Moroccan military and government," said Maj. Rod Erickson, Utah Bilateral Affairs Officer in Rabat, Morocco. "His alliance with the Moroccans has opened countless doors with a valuable ally. Morocco is one of the U.S.'s oldest allies, which is important in that they are not a member of NATO, which gives us a friend among the Muslim world."

During this year's visit, Tarbet met with Mr. Samuel Kaplan, the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Morocco, where they discussed the role, capabilities, cost advantages, and importance of the National Guard and their contributions to Morocco. One of those contributions praised is an annual exercise called Task Force African Lion, where the Utah National Guard deploys teams that provide medical, dental, and veterinary support to Moroccans in the Agadir region. This year's team treated approximately 3,000 people per day, and provided immunizations, dental care, eyeglasses, prescriptions, and personal care to a very appreciative populace, at no cost to them.

Chief Master Sgt. Denise Rager, Utah ANG State Headquarters Command Chief, noted, "Our medical teams at African Lion benefit Moroccans with needed health care that they wouldn't otherwise receive. The local Moroccan doctors wanted to close early each afternoon, but our team talked them in to staying open longer to assist the endless lines."

Tarbet also coordinated a tour of a large local orphanage that the Utah NG has supported for years. Thirty years ago, a young woman named Rita Zniber noticed a woman carrying her grandchild for miles just to get milk. This spawned the inspiration to create the Le Nid orphanage, which has grown to house more than 300 children without families who are in various stages of the adoption process. The NG contingent spent time at the orphanage playing with the children and delivering much -needed supplies and toys that were all obtained through generous donations by members of the Utah NG and families.

"It is such a wonderful opportunity to be able to travel here and spend time with these children", said Army Staff Sgt. Guy Mellor, the Department of the Army 2011 Soldier of the Year. "While I don't have any children of my own yet, I just love being able to play with these kids".

While in country, Tarbet also met with several Moroccan generals to further strengthen the ties between the two countries. He spent time emphasizing that the program would not suffer after his departure, and that his successor would not only continue the partnership, but would strive to strengthen it.

"I have never been prouder of him, and all that he's been able to accomplish over the years. I wouldn't trade it for the world." said Mrs. Mary Tarbet, Tarbet's wife, when asked by Ambassador Kaplan about her husband's upcoming retirement.

"The Moroccans' admiration and affection for General Tarbet was very evident during this farewell visit," added Capt. Jill Jimenez, Utah SPP director. "Honor guards lined the roads as he would enter the installation, and at one meeting, every top general in the Moroccan military was assembled, including the equivalent of all the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to welcome him. We know he will be greatly missed."

"The Moroccans are a very personable people, who place a high value on personal relationships," added Erickson. "They develop bonds that are 'friends for life,' and General Tarbet now has an entire family of friends for life in the Kingdom of Morocco."