National Guard Redefines Meaning of 'United States'

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2007 - The U.S. state of Georgia and the Republic of Georgia in Eastern Europe might seem like strange strategic partners. But since 1993, the National Guard has breached barriers between American states and international states with positive results.

The mission of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program is to buttress bilateral relations with burgeoning U.S. allies.

"The program is a long-term, enduring relationship between a state in the United States and one of the international countries that's either emerging or wants to establish a relationship with the United States," said Army Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau.

During an interview with the Pentagon Channel here yesterday, Blum said the State Partnership Program lays the groundwork for lasting strategic connections.

The tale of two Georgias, for instance, began in May 1995, when a Georgia National Guard representative accompanied the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on a visit to the Republic of Georgia. After this initial trip, the chairman invited a small group of Georgian government and military officials for a jaunt to the Peach State.

In the ensuing 12-year relationship, Georgia's National Guard has helped integrate the former Soviet bloc country into the U.S. European Command strategy of fostering stability and democracy in Eastern Europe.

"This partnership helps the combatant commander and the U.S. ambassador's team in country have another source of military-to-military engagements for the theater security cooperation activities of the combatant commander," Blum said.

The general said bilateral alliances created through program aren't confined to strict military-to-military relations. On the contrary, some partnerships have evolved to the point where military bodies work in concert with civilians.

"It all depends on our two partnering states, our country team and the combatant commander," Blum said of the partnership's shape and function.

In some cases, U.S. civilians have worked directly with their foreign partner's civilian government.

Illinois and Poland partnered in 2003 also under EUCOM's purview, but they agreed their relationship would be based primarily on non-military ties. The Eastern European country of some 38.5 million people was interested in learning about programs the Illinois National Guard established for at-risk youth in cities like Chicago -- fitting, considering that except for the Polish capital of Warsaw, Chicago's Polish population is second only to the southern Polish city of Krakow.

As a result, the U.S. ambassador to Poland sought a U.S.-Poland exchange of ideas about youth outreach. To date, Poland has hosted representatives from Illinois' National Guard three times in different cities to discuss setting up youth programs similar to those in Illinois' urban centers.

In coordination with the U.S. Southern Command, unlikely partnership couples thrive. Ecuador conducts counternarcotics ops with Kentucky, while West Virginia military officials woo Peru.

In 2005, New Hampshire's National Guard exchanged platoons with El Salvador to swap artillery expertise. According to a Web site describing the partnership, the states are planning future exchanges.

"The SPP is set up so ... that we have a way to have partnerships that are long-enduring rather than periodic," Blum said. "We need something that's sustained over time, and we've shown great success with that."

National Guard Redefines Meaning of 'United States' [ ]