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NEWS | Feb. 13, 2024

Nebraska Guardsman named U.S. Africa Command’s 2023 Bilateral Affairs Officer of the Year

By Staff Sgt. Lisa Crawford Joint Force Headquarters - Nebraska National Guard

In December, U.S. Africa Command announced Nebraska Army National Guard Maj. Jessica Pan as the Bilateral Affairs Officer of the Year for 2023.

Bilateral Affairs Officers reside in a country and are responsible for the Department of Defense State Partnership Program there. The Nebraska National Guard and Rwanda Defence Force formalized their partnership Dec. 12, 2019. Since then, the two have conducted multiple engineering, medical and leadership development engagements in both Rwanda and Nebraska.

As the Bilateral Affairs Officer, Pan, of Fairbury, Nebraska, works with the Office of Defense Cooperation, and the U.S. Ambassador’s country team, providing partner country information on State Partnership Program relevant activities. The term “bilateral” is important because it indicates the program is between the United States and the host nation. The Bilateral Affairs Officer is strictly a U.S. representative.

Pan, who has served in the Army National Guard for 19 years, said it is an honor to be recognized for her achievements during her two-year assignment to Rwanda.

“Although this is an individual award, receiving it is a testament to the hard work of the Embassy DoD team, Nebraska State Partnership Program office and the Soldiers and Airmen of the Nebraska National Guard who conduct engagements with the partner,” Pan said.

According to her nomination, Pan served as the acting Office of Defense Cooperation Chief for multiple periods throughout her tenure as the Bilateral Affairs Officer, constantly ensuring that programming outside her direct scope was complete. Working in a small office, her dedication to duty and commitment to building the relationship between Rwanda and the United States was unparalleled.

“Pan is an innovative officer who seeks different ways to maximize the State Partnership Program, looking at building enduring relationships between Rwanda and the State of Nebraska that go beyond just a military-to-military relationship,” her nomination letter read. “She worked diligently to develop a humanitarian assistance plan that involved the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency and the Rwanda Ministry of Emergency Management; she has also investigated other opportunities for the State of Nebraska to partner with Rwanda to build relations for this still young partnership.”

The nomination also described Pan as an exemplary team player and a true professional. She was lauded by the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence and Nebraska's Senior Enlisted Advisors for her relentless efforts in maintaining the Rwanda Defence Forces NCO development. She also served as the lead planner for multiple medical readiness exercises, which have helped to improve the medical skills of practitioners in the Nebraska National Guard the Rwanda Defence Force, while also providing much needed medical care to thousands of patients.

Pan has also dedicated numerous off-duty hours to learning Kinyarwanda, the local language, to better facilitate effective communication and understanding between her and her Rwandan counterparts.

“Jessica is a phenomenal officer who both manages programs and supervises personnel with ease,” said Lt. Col. Peter Kalogiros, Defense Attaché, United State Embassy Kigali, Rwanda. “Given her management of the portfolio … the command agreed she was more than worthy of the recognition, and shows how much we all value the Nebraska relationship as the true bilateral linchpin.”

Pan joined the Nebraska Army National Guard in 2001 with the intent to serve her state and country, while pursuing opportunity and adventure. She said she continues to serve nearly two decades later because of the unique mix of both challenging and rewarding experiences she has had that allow her to expand her knowledge of the world and humanity.

Pan said she appreciates that she’s been able to travel to many parts of the United States and the world serving her country. She is currently looking forward to finishing out her assignment in Rwanda, and then bringing the knowledge she’s gained there to Nebraska to continue her career.

“I also look forward to seeing how the Nebraska and Rwanda partnership will grow and develop in the coming years,” she said.