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Milley Touts Successes of Guard's State Partnership Program

  • Published
  • By xxxxxJim Garamone,
  • DOD News

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff called on all nations involved in the National Guard's State Partnership Program to recommit themselves to continue training and if necessary, fighting together for the ideals that are foundational to the freedom of mankind.

"We are stronger together than we will ever be by ourselves," Army Gen. Mark A. Milley said at an event marking to 30th Anniversary of the program that now comprises 100 nations in all parts of the globe.

The hall at National Harbor, Maryland, was packed with defense ministers, chiefs of defense, ambassadors, U.S. combatant commanders, senior NCOs and all 54 adjutant generals.

The State Partnership Program matches the militaries of nations with State National Guard establishments. These matches allow for close contacts via training, military education, exercises and personal contacts. The program started in 1993 to help newly freed nations throw off the remnants of the Soviet Union and build democratic institutions — including their militaries. It has expanded to all parts of the globe.

Ukraine was a member of that first tranche of nations that applied for the program and the nation was matched with California.

The relationship between Ukraine and California has become a touchstone for how the program works. Milley noted the presence of Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova in the room. "Your country has been an inspiration to all of us," the chairman said.

Ukraine has shown incredible grit, resilience and resourcefulness in fighting a war "against a country that's nine times your size," Milley said to Markarova. "Ukraine has fought with bravery for over 500 days now. It's up to you and your people, and to all the soldiers that are in the Ukrainian army today. Fighting the fight, fighting the fight for freedom for all of us."

While the State Partnership Program may have started as a way to engage with former Soviet republics or nations in the Warsaw Pact, it now spans the globe. It has expanded to now more than half the nations in the world that "are working together for the democratic ideals, self-determination and for the rule of law," Milley said.

The program allows the United States to build relationships with these countries. It is a network of nations with common values. "These relationships are critical to all of us, to our organizations, to our militaries," he said. "This is not only in times of peace, but most importantly, in times of crisis."

When a crisis hits, "you can surge people, but you can't surge trust," the general said. "You can surge equipment, but you can't surge trust. You can surge all kinds of things, but you can't surge trust, that trust is built over years."

Trust is built through shared experiences that sometimes involve great hardships, he said. "Because when you pick up a phone and call someone that … you have trust in — built up over the years — that will make the difference … between chaos and order, and sometimes the difference between war and peace," the chairman said. "We've seen the richness of these relationships develop through the state partnership program, and they play a very large role in world crisis."

Crisis struck Ukraine when Russia invaded February 24, 2022. "Russian leadership expected a swift Russian victory," Milley said. "The men and women of the California National Guard knew better. Ukraine developed close working relationships with those California Guardsmen. Within 30 minutes literally of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian military officials phone their friends — not in the Pentagon, but at the California National Guard. These soldiers had not spent hours and days together. They had spent decades together, careers together, and they had advanced from platoon leader and leading small units company command up to commanding general of the Ukrainian army."

"The California Guardsmen worked with the Ukrainian military, trained with them, shared successes and failures with them and became good friends," he said. "Over those decades. Ukrainians receive training and small unit tactics and the ability to shoot, move, communicate, conduct logistics and sustainment. The California Air National Guard flew F-16s alongside Ukrainian Su-27s and MiG-29s and taught them the foundations of air tactics and superiority. The California Guard trained operators in defending and launching cyber operations. They worked with Ukrainians to develop junior officers and build an NCO Corps."

Over the decades, the Guardsmen helped the Ukrainians ditch the deeply ingrained military culture, inherited from the Soviet Union. "Through the years of shared learning together, Ukraine advanced from the legacy of a centrally controlled operation to a force capable of maneuver warfare," Milley said. "And in fact, that army defeated the Russian invasion within a few weeks. Because of this training, they were better equipped when the crisis struck, and Russia began its unprovoked war of choice. Ukraine's military has performed admirably — even brilliantly. They defended their sovereignty with bravery and honor halting the Russian advances at every single turn, and now they're on the counter offensive and very methodically, slowly, taking back their own territory."

"The war in Ukraine demonstrates that when crisis hits, you call the people you know, and that you trust, first," he said.

Milley said these relationships are important to the stability of the rules-based order that has kept great power peace since the end of World War II. "That order has suffered a frontal attack from Vladimir Putin," Milley said. "That order is under stress from the rising and assertive China, and the partnerships built on democracy and sovereignty will become even more critical in the years ahead."