State Patrol trains Central Americans with Guard program

Francisco Vargas, a Costa Rican police officer, puts on his helmet to prepare for the Missouri Highway Patrol driving course as part of a Missouri National Guard State Partnership Program. Guiding Vargas through the course were Missouri State Trooper Bruce Baker and Air National Guard 1st Lt. Todd Cantwell, who served as the interpreter.

Francisco Vargas, a Costa Rican police officer, puts on his helmet to prepare for the Missouri Highway Patrol driving course as part of a Missouri National Guard State Partnership Program. Guiding Vargas through the course were Missouri State Trooper Bruce Baker and Air National Guard 1st Lt. Todd Cantwell, who served as the interpreter.

The Missouri National Guard’s State Partnership Program and the Missouri Highway Patrol hosted five Panamanians and five Costa Ricans for a vehicle operation course at the Ike Skelton Training Site in Jefferson City this week.

The driving course taught law enforcement driving fundamentals, defensive driving techniques, evasive maneuvers and highway emergency management response techniques that the international participants will be able to take back and implement in their own countries.

“Costa Rica wants to develop a course similar to this one,” said Francisco Vargas, an officer with the Costa Rican National Police. “Going through this course will be a pillar to construct this type of course in Costa Rica. It’s important to emphasize the need for a course like this, and how it will better the towns we serve.”

Panamanian and Costa Rican National Police connected with the Missouri Highway Patrol through the Missouri National Guard’s State Partnership Program. The state partnership prides itself on making the connection and allowing the international partners to work with Missouri resources, like the Highway Patrol, said Lt. Col. Rebecca Segovia, the program director. The Guard’s State Partnership provided translators to work with the Highway Patrol instructors and the international students.

“It’s been eye-opening for both countries,” said Missouri National Guard 1st Lt. Todd Cantwell, a coordinator with the State Partnership Program. “The Panama and Costa Rica National Police have learned new techniques to take home and implement, including adding a track like this. They’re taking notes.”

While Cantwell served as one of the translators, the Missouri Highway Patrol was tasked with instructing the participants through the course that every state trooper must pass. State troopers provided classroom instruction and guided the national police officers through the emergency drivers training that is not available in Panama or Costa Rica.

“It’s been a neat experience, and one I’ll remember throughout my career,” said Trooper Bruce Baker of the Missouri Highway Patrol. “Language is a barrier, but driving is universal. The main purpose of the class is safety. So, we’re teaching them the limits of the equipment and how not to exceed those abilities.”

The Missouri National Guard officially became Panama’s state partner in 1996 and has since conducted more than 26 overseas deployments for training missions and more than 67 State Partnership Program events.

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