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Nevada Assists Tonga in Drug Fight

As part of State Partnership Program, Soldiers exchange information with South Pacific neighbor to help battle trafficking
Nevada National Guard Soldiers conducted maritime sessions with the Kingdom of Tonga on May 9-13 that focused on drug identification. Photo by SFC Erick Studenicka
Nevada National Guard Soldiers conducted maritime sessions with the Kingdom of Tonga on May 9-13 that focused on drug identification. Photo by SFC Erick Studenicka

NUKU'ALOFA, TONGArecord number of agencies were on hand for a Nevada National Guard and Kingdom of Tonga exchange May 9–13 in Tonga’s capital city of Nuku’alofa. The exchange focused on drug identification and included two maritime sessions that spotlighted ship embarkment and evidence discovery.

Organized and facilitated by the Nevada Guard State Partnership Program, the weeklong class included 10 Tongan and American agencies and allowed each organization to share its latest information concerning drug identification in an allied effort to combat potential drug trafficking in the South Pacific. 

The exchange also broached the subjects of human trafficking, piracy and the protection of natural resources. The Tongan agencies included His Majesty’s Armed Forces, Customs, Police and Ministry of Infrastructure officials, as well as a representative from the Attorney General’s office. The American participants were the Joint Interagency Task Force West, U.S. Coast Guard, Defense Attache Office, and the Nevada Army and Air National Guard.

“The multiagency approach to drug identification is the only way to go,” says Tonga police deputy commissioner Pelenatita Fe’ao Vaisuai. “No one agency can do it all on its own—it must be a cooperative effort.”

According to Tonga Armed Forces Lieutenant Siosiua Ika, the idea for a drug identification exchange stemmed from a recent incident in which Tongan officials couldn’t easily identify substances on a ship that had run aground.

“That was a lesson learned,” Ika says. “For [Tongan agencies], drug identification training should continue.” 

With drug identification the top priority of the exchange, Army Guard Sergeant Lars Nielsen joined Air Guard personnel in opening the exchange with a topical presentation displaying and describing the effects of common illicit drugs in Nevada.

“It was the first time for me to view pictures of the different types of marijuana and understand the different varieties,” says Tonga Armed Forces Staff Sergeant Ofa Baasi. “It was a good class.”

Subsequently, exchange participants learned about the latest in maritime law from U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kevin Bruen before watching a vessel-boarding demonstration by the Coast Guard’s Law Enforcement Detachment at Masefield Naval Base. Later in the exchange, the group headed out to Masefield again to learn about the Tonga Armed Forces’ naval assets and resources.

As the exchange concluded, Tongan officials said they were grateful the Nevada Guard facilitated the exchange, noting they had made new contacts domestically as well as internationally.

“Often, Tongan agencies work in isolation,” says James Lutui of the Tonga Attorney General’s Office. “It was important to join together and learn about policies and issues cooperatively.”