By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 22, 2014 – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel begins a three-day trip to Mexico and Guatemala tomorrow to meet with allies and partners in the Western Hemisphere and affirm America's commitment to the region, Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said here today.
Because an important part of U.S. strategy there is building partner capacity through military-to-military engagement, Kirby told reporters during a briefing, Hagel will start the trip at Fort Bragg, N.C., to meet with special operations personnel who lead such missions and to receive a briefing on these capabilities.
Hagel then will travel to Mexico City to attend the second U.S.-Canada-Mexico North American Defense Ministerial conference.
“This ministerial, which first met [in Canada] in 2012,” Kirby said, “provides an opportunity to expand our bilateral defense ties with Canada and with Mexico to a trilateral framework for increased defense cooperation and coordination as we confront shared security challenges.”
The Mexican government has asked to buy 18 Black Hawk helicopters and associated support equipment from the United States, the press secretary said, adding that the State Department has approved the potential sale and the sale notice, as required by law.
Congress was notified of the sale request April 17, Kirby said, and the process will continue from there.
“We believe this proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy national security of the United States by helping improve the security of a strong, strategic partner in Mexico, both in terms of combating organized crime and drug trafficking,” he added.
Also in Mexico, Hagel will lay a wreath at the monument for the 201st Mexican Air Force Squadron, which fought alongside the United States as part of the allied forces in the Pacific campaign during World War II -- specifically, the fight over the Philippines, the press secretary said.
About 250,000 Mexican citizens served in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, he added. More than 1,000 Mexicans received Purple Hearts, and three received the Medal of Honor.
Afterward, Kirby said, Hagel will travel to Guatemala to convey U.S. support for a key partner in the region challenged by narcotics trafficking and transnational crime.
Hagel’s visit will be the first visit to Guatemala by a U.S. defense secretary since 2005, Kirby said. “The secretary looks forward to meeting with the country's leadership,” he added.
While in Guatemala, Hagel also will visit with U.S. troops who are engaged in medical training and civil affairs exercises alongside members of the Guatemalan military.