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New Jersey Guard Celebrates Alliance With Albania

Special to American Forces Press Service

LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J., Dec. 5, 2008 – The New Jersey National Guard is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its alliance with the republic of Albania through the State Partnership Program.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, left, adjutant general of New Jersey, and Albanian Defense Minister Gazmend Oketa cut a cake commemorating the 15-year partnership between the New Jersey National Guard and the Republic of Albania. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Mark Olsen
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The State Partnership Program, launched by the National Guard Bureau and the U.S. State Department in the 1990s, was started to foster alliances between U.S. states and former Soviet countries, officials said.

Soldiers and airmen with the New Jersey National Guard have worked with their counterparts in Albania since 1993 to modernize the former communist nation’s defense forces and prepare it for membership in NATO.

Albania is scheduled to join the 26-nation alliance in April.

Albanian Defense Minister Gazmend Oketa said New Jersey provided critical assistance to help it reach its long-standing goal of NATO membership.

“The Albanian armed forces are proud of our achievements, and we are proud to say we were not alone,” Oketa told National Guard members who gathered at a luncheon held at the Lawrenceville Armory in his honor. “The Albanian armed forces welcomed your help -- and your friendship.”

Army Maj. Gen. Glenn K. Rieth, the state adjutant general, said the soldiers and airmen from New Jersey watched the Albanian defense forces blossom in the past several years.

“The quality of the Albanian soldier is top tier,” he said.

Many of the New Jersey Guard members and former members, who deployed to Albania to serve as advisors, were honored at the event as well.

Among them was Dennis Bliss, a retired Army National Guard colonel who served as a legal advisor to Albania during the early years of the partnership. He helped draft a constitution that incorporates some of the language and ideas found in the U.S. Constitution.

“It was exciting to help an emerging democracy learn from the experiences we had in the United States and allow them to cherry pick the best of what we had to offer,” he said. “You’re kind of a Johnny Appleseed for a democracy that can be lasting.”

The State Partnership Program has spawned many friendships over the years, program participants said.

“We have more in common than what separates us,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Protesto, a former program participant.

Maj. Judie Marranco, another program participant, said it was a gratifying experience.

“With this partnership, we bring friendship,” she said. “And when you have a friend, you know they’re going to do anything they can to help.”

(From a New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs news release.)

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Related Sites:
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