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National Guard Leaders Emphasize Value of State Partnership Program

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely,
  • National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – The adjutants general from California, Florida, Nebraska and Vermont discussed the value of the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program during a media roundtable June 2.

The true worth of the SPP has been evident in recent months throughout the Russia-Ukraine conflict, said Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California National Guard.

“Because we’ve had that partnership with Ukraine for going on 29, almost 30 years now, we’ve been working pretty intensely since 2014 to develop combat capacity,” said Baldwin. “The proof is in the pudding in the performance of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

The National Guard has forged enduring partnerships through the SPP since 1993 to help build U.S. and partner capacity to meet 21st-century security challenges. The SPP originated to assist countries emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. It now involves 45% of the world’s countries and the National Guard of every U.S. state and territory.

Baldwin said the relationships California Guard Soldiers and Airmen have established with Ukrainian counterparts through this program have proven invaluable.

“We participate in a daily video teleconference with the Joint Staff in the Pentagon and with United States European Command,” he said. “Often, the Ukrainians will share information with us that they don’t share through more formal channels because we have those personal relationships.”

However, the close bonds the National Guard has built with Ukraine are not limited to the California Guard. In early 2022, Soldiers with the Florida National Guard were in Ukraine training with Joint Multinational Training Group Ukraine members before the Russian invasion.

“Many of our Guardsmen have remained in contact with their Ukrainian counterparts, exchanging text messages and videos,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard. “They’ve seen how the work that they have done has paid off in actual technical engagements with the Russians.”

These relationships are made possible through the SPP and the continuity the Guard offers, Eifert said.

“Stability makes the National Guard uniquely suited to conduct these partnership missions,” he said. “Guardsmen typically remain in their states during their entire term of service, unlike our active-duty brethren who move every few years. This constancy creates trust through long-term associations that last decades.”

Along with Ukraine, the National Guard is partnered with 23 European nations, including 14 NATO allies. Eifert said the conflict in Ukraine has reinforced the NATO coalition, with a focus on building and strengthening partnerships.

“I think one of the outcomes of the invasion of Ukraine is it has really rallied the NATO alliance and our allies and partners in ways we haven’t seen in a while,” he said.

Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Knight, Vermont’s adjutant general, said a key focus of the SPP has been interoperability, demonstrated by the Vermont National Guard providing F-35 support to the NATO Air Policing mission in Europe.

“Working with our NATO allies on aviation platforms, (it’s) an incredibly detailed level of training,” he said.

While the focus of the SPP has been military-to-military tactics exchanges, Knight said the Vermont National Guard is pursuing a whole of society approach to its partnerships with North Macedonia, Senegal, and one of the most recent additions to the SPP, Austria, respectively.

“Recently, I hosted the Austrian minister of defense in Vermont,” he said. “We met with the governor and held a business roundtable. There were a lot of discussions on renewable energy and things that had nothing to do with the military. But that’s really the foundational element that will start the partnership. And there’s just huge potential for it to grow from there.”

State Partnership Program engagements occur with countries worldwide, with National Guard elements paired with partner nations in every geographic combatant command. The Florida Guard is addressing ongoing security threats, “like human trafficking, illegal drugs and arms trade, and countering China’s growing global influence in our own hemisphere,” within the Caribbean, said Eifert.

This year alone, the National Guard has assisted U.S. Southern Command in accomplishing theater campaign objectives by conducting 30 engagements in eight countries, with another 12 scheduled this fiscal year. These exchanges include small-unit security, maritime search and rescue, noncommissioned officer leadership development, public affairs, small-unit patrolling, logistics and sustainment, and cyber protection.

One of the elements that sets U.S. military forces apart from potential peer and near-peer adversaries is the development and application of the noncommissioned officer corps – a requirement of NATO membership and a component of many state partnership activities, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, TAG for the Nebraska National Guard.

The Nebraska Guard has worked closely with the Texas National Guard to develop an NCO corps in shared partner Czech Republic’s armed forces. “They are a full NATO member and actively participating in the support of Ukrainian armed forces in their counter efforts against the evasion of threats,” Bohac said.

While close ties in Europe have been reaffirmed by recent events, Eifert said the sky is the limit for the State Partnership Program to expand and evolve.

“The bang for the buck that you get out of this program to grow, it seems like a no brainer to me, especially given the impact it has directly on our National Defense Strategy,” he said.