WASHINGTON, February 10, 2015 —
The Defense Department signed a memorandum of understanding today with Estonia, marking the beginning of a partnership to strengthen both countries’ reserve forces through annual exchanges of personnel, a senior defense official said.
Richard O. Wightman Jr., principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, discussed the Military Reserve Exchange Program and the significance of the agreement.
“This memorandum of agreement between the U.S. and Estonia provides ongoing proof of our continued dedication to our NATO partners,” he said.
“The Military Reserve Exchange Program further strengthens the partnership between our two nations,” Wightman said, “and plays a key role in the development of the Reserves and their contribution to national defense.”
The agreement, he noted, complements U.S. European Command’s theater security strategy and the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
“By entering into these partnerships, our two nations hope to enhance reserve component capabilities and training opportunities,” Wightman said.
“This MOU opens the way to closer cooperation between the Estonian Defense League,” he said, “and U.S. reserve component forces that should improve the interoperability and capabilities of the Estonian military.”
Benefits of the MREP
According to Wightman, the primary benefit of the MREP is the opportunity to directly engage reserve forces in the development of national defense capabilities. “U.S. reserve components each have their unique capabilities, which the Estonian Defense League can now access through this program,” he said.
This is a unique, cost-effective program, he said, focused on bilateral interoperability without the deployment of units or large forces.
“Each nation faces unique challenges specific to the reserves,” Wightman said, “and this program is designed for each nation to grow by sharing best practices concerning their reserve forces.”
The bottom line, he said, is the MREP program provides bilateral and multilateral engagements with tailorable capabilities to quickly respond to any international environment and helps maintain total force operational capability and maximize cost efficiency.
Reserve Force Dependence Increasing
Wightman explained the MREP partnership with Estonia has been in “progressive” development since 2012, and is one of many programs nations can opt to engage in.
“Just in the last 15 years,” he said, “there has been a dramatic increase in requirements and dependence on reserve forces to support various contingency operations around the world.”
These reserve forces, Wightman said, have developed into both strategic and operational forces and “Estonia is no different.”
“Estonia has been actively involved in the State Partnership Program since 1993,” he said, “and continues to seek prospects and opportunities.”
Reassuring European Partners
The MREP, Wightman said, is a “great” example of a low-intensity program providing a visible assurance that the U.S. remains engaged at all levels with NATO partners.
“This program fits within the Defense Department’s priority of reassurance by stressing shared stability and long-term commitment through direct reserve engagement,” he said.
“The program also ensures armed forces gain a working knowledge of operating effectively together for the future,” Wightman added.
NATO Cyber Center of Excellence
One benefit of working with Estonia, Wightman noted, will be the “unique” international experiences in cyber defense challenges both reserve forces will be able to offer leaders. Both nations face many challenges in the area of cyber defense, he noted.
“Close bilateral cooperation with a capable partner nation such as Estonia,” he said, “plays a key role in enhancing cyber defense capabilities and addressing a myriad of present and future threats and risks in this interconnected world.”
“Immersion and integration with cross-cultural opportunities significantly increase global understanding of international threats and challenges,” Wightman said.
MREP Partnership Qualities
Paul Patrick, deputy assistant secretary of defense for readiness, training and mobilization for reserve affairs, talked about what the U.S. seeks in partnerships such as the agreement with Estonia.
“We look for the ability of a nation to sustain a long-term partnership and exchange program between that country and the United States,” he said.
“As far as Estonia is concerned,” Patrick said, “ … given the fact that this country is the NATO Cyber Center of Excellence, we see great opportunity in the cyber arena, especially as U.S. Cyber Command is beginning to set up its cyber mission force, which of course will include a Reserve component element.”
Officials see “great” opportunities for cross-fertilization and an exchange of experiences and learning in the cyber arena, he said.
Patrick explained the differences between the MREP program and the State Partnership Program.
“The State Partnership Program is a National Guard-centric program,” he said, “that focuses on a wide range of building partnership capacity events as part of a combatant commander’s -- in this case, U.S. European Command -- theater security cooperation program.”
What MREP provides, Patrick said, is a wider aperture of opportunity for the entire reserve force, rather than just the National Guard.
The MREP program allows the Naval and Marine Corps Reserves to participate along with the Army and Air Force Reserves, he said.
Patrick also pointed out a difference between U.S. and Estonian reserve forces.
“Estonia has the Estonian Defense League,” he said, “which is comprised of citizens, who, in a volunteer and non-paying status, support the national defense and security of the country.”
It is very unlike the United States’ robust reserve forces, Patrick said, which are fully integrated into the total force and used as part of the operational force.
“But, nonetheless,” he said, “for a country the size of Estonia [it’s] a very important element of their total national defense force.”
Patrick praised the MREP program, noting it’s been “extremely invaluable,” in terms of establishing relationships with participating countries and by virtue of the reciprocal, bilateral exchanges that occur between the U.S. and participating countries.
The MREP program is an important part of the Defense Department’s overall effort to build partnership capacity, he said.
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter: @MarshallDoDNews)