PUEBLO, Colorado — The whirring thud of the rotors from a trio of Black Hawk helicopters echoed off the rooftops of the Aberdeen neighborhood Thursday morning as a delegation of some 22 high ranking military and government officials from the Republic of Slovenia paid a diplomatic visit to Pueblo Community College. The group included Slovenian Minister of Defense Karl Erjavec; Slovenian Chief of Defense, General Alenka Ermenc, who is the only female head of military in NATO; and the Slovenian Ambassador to the United States, Stanislav Vidovic.
The delegation is visiting the State of Colorado as guests of the Colorado National Guard. Major General Mike Loh, the Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard, met with Minister Erjavec earlier in the summer and invited him to visit Colorado.
"We actually took off out of our joint force headquarters, went up to our high-altitude training site up in Gypsum too see the landscape of Colorado, and of course our next stop was right here at Pueblo Community College," said Maj. Gen. Loh.
Today's visit included a traditional klobasi lunch and a live musical performances by the Okolitza Tamburitzans. Minister Erjavec and the generals were seated alongside Pueblo's Slovenian-American Mayor Nick Gradisar, the college's Slovenian-American president Dr. Patty Erjavec and several other guests of the KSKJ Life Slovenian-American Catholic Union.
"I am very surprised for the very, very warm welcome to here for Pueblo," said Minister Erjavec. "The Slovenian community here in Pueblo is a very important tie for the relations between Slovenia and the United States."
After lunch, the group took a tour of the Gorsich Advanced Technology Center on campus. The center is named after the late Fritz Gorsuch whose $4 million bequest in 1994 helped the campus to leverage state funds to build the facility. To mark the special occasion, a linden tree (a national symbol of Slovenia) was planted in the lawn oustide of the center.
Rudy Krasovec, Chairman of KSKJ Life the Slovenian-American Catholic Union, said this visit is a special moment in Pueblo's history.
"He is probably the highest ranking international dignitary from a foreign country that I can ever remember coming to Pueblo, if he's not the highest ranking then he's certainly one of them."
Thursday's visit event is the second high profile diplomatic visit to Pueblo in recent years by Slovenian government officials. In 2016, Ambassador Božo Cerar met with Srečko "Lucky" Vidmar, the Honorary Consul General of Slovenia to Colorado, and toured the city's Slovenian-American cultural sites.
Major General Loh said Krasovec approached him a few years ago to lobby for another diplomatic visit to Pueblo.
"I said I know, I know Rudy it is, it's a wonderful city," Loh recalled.
The Colorado National Guard has worked closely to assist the development of the Slovenian military ever since the break up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. Over the years, the two forces have participated in more than 500 engagements together, including some combat mission in Afghanistan.
"We'll do squad tactics and training, we'll do leadership development of their non-commissioned officer corps, we may even send in a small team to teach them how to do sling load operations in helicopters or mountain rescue and mountain warfare," Loh explained.
Today, the armed forces in both nations are training to fight a new threat online.
"We are very much interested in continuing our cooperation in the cyber area," Erjavec said.
The National Guard Association's 141st Annual Convention is taking place this weekend in Denver. The delegation headed to that event after their visit to Pueblo.