lWASHINGTON – U.S. Central Command is leveraging a popular National Guard Bureau program to increase partner capability while fostering close professional and person relationships between U.S. and partner military members within its area of responsibility.
The State Partnership Program, established 20 years ago to support Eastern European militaries after the Soviet Union’s collapse, has become an indispensable tool for building long-standing military-to-military and civil-military relationships around the globe, Army Maj. Drake Forrest, CENTCOM’s State Partnership Program coordinator, told American Forces Press Service.
Today, the program includes partnerships with 65 countries within every U.S. geographic combatant command, Forrest reported. Of the five partnerships within the CENTCOM area of responsibility, four are with Central Asian states.
The Arizona National Guard and Kazakhstan forged the first of those partnerships in 1993, the program’s first year. Kyrgyzstan and the Montana National Guard began partnering three years later. Tajikistan and the Virginia National Guard launched their partnership in 2003.
The newest partnership in the region, formed last year between the Mississippi National Guard and Uzbekistan, actually builds on one of CENTCOM’s oldest, Forrest explained. The Louisiana National Guard initially began partnering with Uzbekistan in 1996. However, due to its close cultural ties to Haiti, and its heavy involvement there following the 2010 earthquake, the Louisiana Guard transferred that mission to neighboring Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the Colorado National Guard and Jordan established the only state partnership in the Middle East in 2004.
The National Guard, like all other military components, engages regularly with partner militaries, for exercises, events and real-life missions, Forrest said.
What differentiates the State Partnership Program is that it links a specific state National Guard with a partner nation for the long term, he explained. The Guardsmen are able to tailor their engagements based on specific skills the partner military wants to increase. And because the program involves regular engagements, often involving the same people or units, each interaction builds on progress already made.
“The value of the State Partnership Program is that it establishes enduring relationships,” Forrest said. “The participants are helping partners build capabilities and capacity. But because the program provides consistent and enduring presence over time, they are building long-term relationships.”
Forrest has seen firsthand the close bonds that form between National Guard participants, who don’t typically rotate between assignments as frequently as their active-duty counterparts, and the regional militaries they work with.
Although each partnership is different, CENTCOM’s partners share a universal interest in developing junior officers and non-commissioned officers and building peacekeeping capability within their militaries, he reported.
In Tajikistan, which recently introduced its first peacekeeper training, the Virginia National Guard is helping the Tajik military organize a peacekeeping battalion that could serve as a model for its future force. As part of that effort, members of the Virginia National Guard traveled to Tajikistan in June to train Tajik peacekeeping warrant officers on individual- and squad-level movement techniques and urban operation strategies.
These efforts, Forrest noted, support and are partially funded through the State Department’s Global Peace Operations Initiative.
In Kazakhstan, another Global Peace Operations Initiative participant, a contingent of Arizona Army National Guardsmen helped Kazakhstan’s elite Air Mobile Brigade develop the skills needed for certification as a United Nations peacekeeping force.
The Kazakh military also wants to increase vehicle-maintenance skills among its maintainers, Forrest said. Past engagements, both in Kazakhstan and Arizona, have also focused on crisis response operations.
In the Kyrgyz Republic, military leaders are particularly interested in medical events that cover emergency medical techniques, tactics and procedures and the steps involved in setting up a battalion aid station or triage center, Forrest said. Kyrgyzstan is also training to be able to deploy a mobile field hospital for peacekeeping operations.
In May, Montana National Guardsmen conducted an information exchange with the Kyrgyz forces in urban search-and-rescue operations following a notional building collapse. The exercise, one of the largest ever conducted between the United States and Kyrgyzstan, was designed to test the Kyrgyz national emergency response plan, Kyrgyz officials said.
While that event was underway, other Montana Guard members also assessed the Kyrgyz Ministry of Emergency Situations’ national response plan.
In neighboring Uzbekistan, the partnership focuses heavily on rotary- and fixed-wing-aviation operations and safety, as well as emergency response capability, Forrest said.
Shortly after entering into the new partnership in 2012, Mississippi National Guardsmen visited Tashkent for a disaster support information exchange with representatives of Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Emergency Situations, state officials reported. Within the next six months, the Mississippi Guardsmen had conducted 11 events with Uzbek forces.
Meanwhile, in Jordan, Colorado National Guard engagements historically have focused on F-16 fighter jet operations and safety, Forrest said. But as the partnership has matured, the areas of focus have expanded.
At the request of Princess Aisha bin Al Hussein, the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan and a Jordanian major general, exchanges now address female officer and noncommissioned officer development, he said.
A women’s leadership engagement conducted last year at Fort Carson, Colo., focused on leadership development and communication styles, deployment preparations, sexual assault prevention, balancing work and home life and overall challenges faced by military women, state officials reported.
Three years ago, Jordan asked to extend the scope of events to address religious diversity and the role Jordanian imams can play in supporting military families during military deployments based on the U.S. Chaplains Corps model, Forrest said.
“I am not sure that anyone in 1993 imagined what an extraordinary tool for building partnership capacity the State Partnership Program would become,” Army Gen. Frank J. Grass, the National Guard Bureau chief, said in commemorating the program’s 20th anniversary. “It is one of the National Guard’s valuable contributions to the American people, the national security and the meaningful connection it enables between Main Street America and our partners around the word.”
That connection is particularly valuable in promoting CENTCOM’s engagement across its vast theater at a time of limited resources, Forrest said.
“The State Partnership Program delivers a big bang for your buck,” he said. “It’s low-cost, but has a large impact on the region – not just through increasing regional capability, but also in terms of the long-term relationship building it promotes.”