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National Guard Leaders Urge Leveraging Enlisted Force in SPP

  • Published
  • By Sgt. 1st Class Elizabeth Pena,
  • National Guard Bureau

DENVER - The National Guard Bureau hosted its annual State Partnership Program Conference April 17-21, welcoming Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Joanne Bass, senior enlisted leaders from Air Force major commands, combatant commands and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency to participate in a panel about leveraging enlisted development in the SPP.

“This year, we celebrate 30 years of stable, steadfast, and growing relationships with our partner nations,” said Senior Enlisted Advisor Tony Whitehead, SEA to the chief of the National Guard Bureau. “We have come a long way since 1993, with 88 partnerships across 100 nations, but work still needs to be done.

“I encourage Guard leaders and partner nations to educate and empower your enlisted corps to best support defense and security cooperation across the globe,” Whitehead said.

The conference brought together representatives from each of the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia, including SPP directors, coordinators and senior enlisted leaders, to help solve challenges in assisting partner nations. 

Conference topics included how to develop noncommissioned officers in the SPP.

“Enlisted developmental activity is something that has been going on for decades,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Robert V. Abernethy, command senior enlisted leader for U.S. European Command. “It is something we [active component] have been working on ourselves within our enlisted force.

“Now, based on the current security environment, specifically in Europe with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, most of our allies and partners are very interested in establishing and enhancing their enlisted force,” Abernethy said.

The Department of Defense State Partnership Program is administered by the National Guard Bureau and guided by State Department foreign policy goals. It is executed by the adjutants general in support of combatant commanders, U.S. Chief of Mission security cooperation objectives, and DOD policy goals.

“All our NCO corps across Europe are advancing at different paces. They have different capabilities already existing inside their formations,” said Abernethy. “So, we must critically analyze where they are, understand the starting point, and develop a plan to advance them. That is where the National Guard plays a key role since they already have those relationships. Now we can hone in on that so we are all shooting towards the same target.”

Reserve and Active component military leaders can leverage relationships built with partner nations to enhance interoperability. During the panel, senior enlisted leaders discussed the direct correlation between investing in the relationship with partner nation counterparts during peacetime and the effectiveness created between NATO allies in combat.

The panel moderator, Chief Master Sgt. Clinton Miller, serving in his second year as the senior enlisted leader for the NGB SPP program, said there are changes on the horizon to get after this effort, based on feedback from states and their partner countries.

“It became apparent that a common request from our partner nations is the advancement and development of their NCO programs,” said Miller. “Establishing a bilateral affairs NCO presents an opportunity to develop, professionalize and fund National Guard NCOs within the embassies of our partner nations, thereby expanding the contact surface area for all security cooperation professionals.”

Maj. Gen. William Zana, director for strategic plans and policy and international affairs, announced plans to pursue NCO positions in six geographic combatant commands, either Army or Air National Guard.

Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals. Partner service members often come to U.S. military schools, and vice versa.

“What I have personally found through my experience is that it is an incredible two-way exchange of information,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau. “Soldiers and Airmen come back from these [engagements] and have a good perspective of the global environment they may have yet to access in their earlier careers. The great benefit for leaders is, now [that Soldier or Airman] wants to stay in the Guard longer and continue to do those events.”

The conference and the discussions are examples of how states and their respective partners, through U.S. support and engagement, strengthen the capability and improve interoperability daily, whether training at home or in combat missions abroad.

“We are all trying to do the same things, ensure the safety and security of our citizens, and preserve our borders and sovereignty,” Hokanson said. “It is an incredible two-way exchange of information.”