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National Guard State Partnership Program forges lasting connections beyond military relations

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. David Eichaker
  • Air National Guard

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—“The unique nature of the National Guard [State Partnership Program], which is implemented through each state, is something that's unique throughout the world,” said Ambassador Dennis Hankins, National Guard Bureau Foreign Policy Advisor. “But seeing the dedication of our state leaders really trying to build strong enduring relations with partners… builds deep personal relationships that easily expand beyond what they started with.”

The remarks were delivered as part of the Department of Defense and National Guard State Partnership Program’s 30th Anniversary Conference recognizing the Department of Defense security cooperation program, managed and administered by the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, executed by the Geographic Combatant Commands, and sourced by National Guard states and territories.

Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader collaboration spanning civilian, economic and social spheres.

“I will point out we've partnered with Moldova for over 27 years,” said Army Maj. Gen. Todd Hunt, adjutant general, North Carolina National Guard. “I believe our whole-of-government approach started with a bilateral affairs officer visiting an orphanage and seeing the need, then calling back to the states[for support]. Through local churches and organizations, we were able to start the process of getting others involved, not just military-to-military, but civilian-to-civilian. That relationship has blossomed into what we have today.”

While the North Carolina-Moldova connection represents one of the 88 enduring partnerships encompassing 100 nations in the program, holistic benefits in agriculture, education, medical and biotechnology offer emerging dividends.

“Due to the relationships we have built with medical universities in North Carolina during the Ukrainian crisis … the embassy called and wanted us, along with our secretary of state in North Carolina, to set up a virtual emergency medicine forum for the nurses and we did that within one day, and that was very beneficial for the medical providers within Moldova,” he added.

While Guard units work with partner militaries to bolster capabilities, improve interoperability and boost integrated deterrence, the intention of the SPP remains mutually beneficial.

“We've got multiple projects in different stages of development,” said Brig. Gen. Eduard Ohladciuc, chief of general staff, Moldovan Armed Forces. “We've got multiple projects based on civilian cooperation from military to military … I want to assure you that training is very valuable for Moldovan soldiers. I would like to extend my appreciation to the U.S. government and to the government of North Carolina for this possibility,” he added.

The 2022 National Defense Strategy names partnerships with foreign allies as a key strategic advantage: “Mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships are an enduring strength — and will be all the more critical in the years ahead.” For an estimated $42 million annually, the SPP delivers a significant return on investment by broadening the pool of security partners who are willing and able to support defense and security cooperation objectives comprehensively.

“Security cooperation is not just mil-to-mil,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Knight, adjutant general, Vermont National Guard. “We do that by having engaged ambassadors, our country teams, all the supporting agencies that bring to bear our continuity as an organization and facilitating those relationships.”

Often regarded as the Department of Defense's "best kept secret'' the holistic value of interpersonal relationships continue to pay dividends in increasing awareness and driving the program forward.

“Our job is to continue educating because then we can truly bring in a whole-of-society, whole-of-government approach and make the program that much more effective,” Knight added. “We're currently working with the Embassy in Senegal and the public diplomacy section to focus on the International Visiting Leader program and the Young African Leadership Initiative, and that's focusing on solid waste management and environmental protection.”

Initially developed to assist countries emerging from behind the Iron Curtain, SPP remains future-focused and adaptive to geopolitical changes.

“We have been collaborating together for more than almost 15 years now … The Sahel region really needs that type of international partnership coming together to work,” said General Mbaye Cissé, chief of general staff, Senegalese Armed Forces.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau chief, echoed this sentiment in the conference’s closing remarks, “We are bound by a shared commitment to a more stable world, and we must stand together against forces that threaten a free, open, rules-based global order. We can do this by being good partners, honoring our commitments, sharing our resources, and deepening our cooperation.”