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Guard Chief Committed to State Partnership Program

By Master Sgt. Bob Haskell, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

MONTEREY, Calif., July 16, 2003 – States affiliated with foreign countries should strengthen those bonds. States that have not forged similar international alliances might want to think about doing so.

That's the message that the new chief of the National Guard Bureau is delivering this summer on behalf of the National Guard's State Partnership Program, observing its first 10 years of existence.

It is one way that the Guard is supporting the Security Cooperation Guidance document recently signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum.

"This program will exist, this program will expand, and this program will be supported," he recently told Guard representatives from the 54 states and territories during the 2003 State Partnership Program Workshop in Monterey, Calif.

"I want to assure you that I remain committed to the State Partnership Program," Blum said. "I ask you to remain a strong proponent for continuing these partnerships and help strengthen those where the relationships may have diminished."

Guard officials in 36 states, two territories and the District of Columbia from Puerto Rico to Guam -- have developed partnerships with 38 countries around the world since the program got its modest start in January 1993.

Those partnerships, ranging from military training to suggestions for economic development, form a critical part of the Guard's efforts to help this country maintain international stability, Blum said.

"It is readily apparent with the global war on terrorism that the United States must remain fully engaged in the international community," said Blum, who became the Guard Bureau's chief in April 2003. He had commanded a multinational peacekeeping force in Bosnia between October 2001 and April 2002.

"As you know, the National Guard's unique civil-military nature is of great interest to the international community, and the State Partnership Program is a valuable and flexible tool for supporting our nation's Security Cooperation Guidance," Blum told his Monterey audience.

"As we recognize the 10-year anniversary of the State Partnership Program, we are better positioned than ever to offer civil-military expertise to both long-established and emerging global partners, helping them to positively effect changes within their borders," he added.

Blum's emphasis from will give this program even more credibility, predicted Col. Mark Kalber, the National Guard Bureau's chief of international affairs that oversees the State Partnership Program.

"It is especially important to reinforce the ties that already exist between the states and their partner nations and to develop new partnerships," Kalber added. "More countries want to get into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and we need all of the allies we can get to help wage the war on terrorism."

Significantly, the seven countries invited to join NATO in November 2002 all have State Partnership alliances: Bulgaria with Tennessee, Estonia with Maryland, Latvia with Michigan, Lithuania with Pennsylvania, Romania with Alabama, Slovakia with Indiana, and Slovenia with Colorado. These countries are expected to join NATO next year.

The three newest NATO members also had State Partnership ties before they joined in 1999. They include the Czech Republic with Texas and Nebraska, Hungary with Ohio, and Poland with Illinois.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were the first countries to join the partnership program in 1993. The original intent was to help former members of the Warsaw Pact in Eastern Europe learn the ways of democracy, including the National Guard's concept of the citizen-soldier, and free-market economies.

"It was decided to start military liaison teams in the Baltics with reserve component personnel. This helped avoid a provocative signal to the Russian Federation that may have been sent had the teams been staffed with active duty soldiers," Guard officials explained.

Since then, partnerships have been created in four central Asian countries north of Afghanistan Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Alliances have also been formed with 13 Latin American countries. In East Asia, meanwhile, the Philippines has been partnered with Hawaii and Guam, Thailand is strongly affiliated with Washington state, and Mongolia is expected to be partnered with Alaska very soon.

Relations between Nevada and Turkmenistan provide an example of how the National Guard Bureau chief would like to see the partnerships flourish.

That alliance was re-energized in 2002 after being dormant for six years. Nine exchange programs, including sharing information about fire response and agriculture, are scheduled for this year and will be continued in 2004.

"The key to the program's success has been the high level of commitment from state and local agencies and the University of Nevada, Reno. Almost all of the technical experts used in the exchanges have been civilians," Nevada officials reported. "This has worked very well since the Turkmen military, both Army and Border Service, is learning new roles and missions in areas that are traditionally dominated by civilians."

(Master Sgt. Bob Haskell is assigned to the National Guard Bureau Public Affairs Office in Arlington, Va.)

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