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Hawaii Airman to serve as Bilateral Affairs Officer in the Philippines

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mysti Bicoy,
  • 154th Wing

MANILA, Philippines – Bilateral Affairs Officers are instrumental in global diplomacy, nurturing diplomatic ties and bolstering international alliances. Their role is crucial in establishing constructive and harmonious relationships between nations, and it adapts to the specific needs and priorities of the countries they engage with.

In a groundbreaking development, the National Guard Bureau has designated Maj. Stephen Brightman as the inaugural Bilateral Affairs Officer (BAO) from the Hawaii Air National Guard to serve at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. Brightman's mission holds immense significance as it aims to further enhance the robust relationship between the United States and the Philippines during his three-year tenure. He is dedicated to building and enriching bilateral relations through the State Partnership Program.

"This is a great opportunity to serve in a different capacity," said Brightman. "There's a strong relationship between the two countries already established, and my objective is to further strengthen it by enhancing our communications and readiness between the U.S. and the Philippines," said Brightman.

The State Partnership Program pairs each U.S. state or territory with a foreign country or region. These partnerships are established based on shared interests, common goals, and opportunities for collaboration.

"The BAO not only maintains the operational continuity of joint initiatives but also ensures the alignment of our mutual objectives for regional security," said Maj. Reuben Kim, Hawaii National Guard State Partnership Program director. "Maj. Brightman's work has been invaluable in fostering mutual understanding, trust, and shared strategic vision."

Leveraging his position, Brightman has actively initiated dynamic military exchanges like Rotary Wing engagement and subject matter exchanges. Additionally, he has spearheaded various initiatives, including humanitarian aid efforts and lively cultural exchanges. These endeavors are carefully orchestrated through close collaboration with the Armed Forces of the Philippines and various government agencies.

"Through collaboration with partners and staff agencies, I've gained invaluable insights, refining my planning and processes for future progress," explains Brightman.

Brightman also emphasizes cultivating long-term relations that extend beyond immediate military engagements. His role demands a profound understanding of both cultures and embodies how deeply the U.S. values its alliance with the Philippines.

"A significant part of my job is to deeply understand and respect both cultures and establish connections based on shared values," said Brightman.

Most BAOs do not receive formal language training, so learning the host nation's language is a matter of personal initiative, requiring additional time alongside numerous official duties.

Before assuming his role as a BAO, Brightman had a personal connection to the Philippines, facilitating a smooth transition to a foreign country.

"My wife was born and raised in Manila, which has provided me with insights into the local culture, enhancing my ability to connect and collaborate effectively," explained Brightman.

While reflecting on the shared values and commitment between the Philippines and U.S., Brightman attributes his success in the Philippines to the warmth of the local culture.

"I've observed parallels in cultural attributes, like the Hawaiian notion of 'ohana' symbolizing a larger family or community," Brightman shared. "This cultural bond has fostered strong connections with my Filipino colleagues."

As Brightman works to build a solid foundation, his commitment to advancing the relationship between the United States and the Philippines sets a promising trajectory for future bilateral engagements.

"Having Maj. Brightman, as our BAO at the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group in the Philippines, is essential to facilitate our ongoing military cooperation, said Kim. "He serves as a critical link between our two militaries, providing insight, guidance, and coordination at a strategic level."

The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relations for 30 years and now includes 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the globe.