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Major General William Zana, National Guard Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, and International Affairs, Holds a Press Briefing on the 30th Anniversary of the State Partnership Program

STAFF: Good morning and welcome. Thank you all for coming.

Today, we're here with the director, strategy, plans and policy and international affairs, Major General William Zana, and he will discuss the State Partnership Program's 30th Anniversary Conference happening here in the National Capitol Region, 17 and 18 July. I'm Captain Jon LaDue, National Guard Bureau Public Affairs, and I'll be moderating today's media roundtable. We will have 30 minutes today, so I'd ask that you please keep your questions focused on the topic of the State Partnership Program and its anniversary events.

General Zana has a brief opening statement, and then we'll open it up for questions, and to ensure we have time for everyone to participate, we will limit everyone to one question and a follow-up, and then if there's additional time at the end, we'll open it up for additional questions. I have a list of the media joining us remotely and will call on you by name. And I know some of you in the room, but not everyone, so if you're in the room and I call on you, please announce your name and your outlet before asking your question.

And with that, I will turn it over to General Zana for his opening remarks.


MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM ZANA: Thanks, Captain LaDue -- and good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for the opportunity to talk a little bit about the 30th Anniversary of the State Partnership Program, a program that began in 1993 with just 13 countries and has now grown to 100 countries. Program's growth and evolutions as you look at this is truly just quite remarkable.

Today's National Guard is a ready, capable, and vital part of our National Defense Strategy. The importance of allies and partners is a theme that runs deeply through our National Security Strategy, our National Defense Strategy and our National Military Strategy. And, I’d argue is deeply encultured within what we do as the U.S. military, how we operate and our values. The SPP is a program that clearly demonstrates our nation's enduring emphasis on working side-by-side with willing partners. The State Partnership Program provides an unparalleled opportunity where we, the National Guard, in close cooperation with both DOD, Department of State, and our both nation and state partners build enduring and trusting relationships with partner nations around the world.

The Guard's currently partnered with more than half of the world's nations, and we expect to see continued growth in the coming years. We've got capacity within the Guard to be able to support additional partnerships and additional missions, training opportunities, and exercises.

As many of you know, the National Guard State Partnership Program will celebrate our 30 years of building and growing these successful, long-term relationships with allies and partners in a conference scheduled for next week, July 17th and 18th, at the Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, here in Maryland. At this event, we'll host approximately 600 participants from more than 90 nations with many ministers of defense, chiefs of defense, ambassadors, combatant command commanders, state adjutants general, senior enlisted leaders and a variety of speakers and panelists from across our whole-of-government, including the White House, Department of Defense and Department of State. It's truly a remarkable turnout for this.

At the conference, we will commemorate the program's many achievements, but I think more importantly, we're going to focus on ensuring discussion to help shape the program's future, the evolution as we go forward. An event of this magnitude is unprecedented in the program's history, and it's going to provide us an opportunity to do at the highest level what the program does every day worldwide, and that's to share, learn, and grow with one another.

We invite you to RSVP to one or more of the 30th Anniversary Conference events. The agenda is available and will be shared with you. Invited speakers include Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, our JCS member, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, many other high-ranking U.S. and foreign defense officials. We hope you will join us, and thanks again for your interest in this vitally-important program. I look forward to some questions and discussion.

STAFF: Thank you, General Zana. I will now open it up for questions here in the room. I will start with John with Defense Scoop.

Q: Thank you. Thanks for doing this, General.

GEN. ZANA: Thanks.

Q: I was wondering to what extent cyber plays a role in this program. And are you looking to expand any of those initiatives with some of these partner nations?

GEN. ZANA: Hey, John, thanks for the question on cyber. What we see is -- there are a lot of -- if you look over the history of the program, you see an evolution of the things we really focus on in training. Cyber information operations has been something that's emergent, there's a great demand signal for. One of the breakout sessions -- or one of the panel discussions that we've got during the event is focused specifically on cyber.

We see a great demand signal from our partners to -- to grow the capabilities. We face many of the same challenges, both in terms of adversaries and in terms of the efforts that we've put at this. Over the last couple of years, we've seen a tremendous growth of the number of things that we do, both exchanges, exercises, and events, that are either related to the State Partnership Program, or more broadly, what we do with the -- within the Guard with our partners in security cooperation.

I see continued growth in that and other areas. One of the other areas that we see a lot of discussion on -- and I think it's driven by what many people are seeing in the news -- unmanned aerial systems. We see tremendous interest in space activities and operations as well. We also see growth and I think opportunities within areas like women, peace and security.

I think there's a number of -- of our partners who we have both shared with and are learning from, in terms of best practices across all of those areas. Thank you.

Q: I was wondering, does this program play at all into the so-called Hunt Forward operations that CYBERCOM does? Is -- is the Guard part of that and is it at all connected to this program or is that a totally separate thing?

GEN. ZANA: Totally separate thing, but what I would say is, within the -- the State Partnership Program, you've got -- it's a mil-to-mil relationship initially, but really, that's just the opening of the door to all sorts of other activities. We see that -- often, that the trust that's built within these relationships helps us to partner many different ways with -- with partners. Thanks.

STAFF: Okay, we'll take our next question virtually. We'll go to Phil Stewart with Reuters.

Q: Hey there. I know you're focused on the State Partnership Program. I -- my questions are -- are related to Taiwan. Wondering, you know, how -- how -- how easily, you know, you would be able to incorporate Taiwan into the State Partnership Program, what challenges you would face in doing so? Hawaii's been cited as a possible state to do that. And also, could you bring us up to speed on -- on where Guard training is with the -- with the Taiwanese right now and what kind of cooperation exists? Thanks.

GEN. ZANA: Phil, thanks for the questions. And what I would say first off -- the focus for today is strictly on the State Partnership Program. Taiwan is not -- they're -- there haven't been discussions about admission there. The process that we work with every nation is that there has to be requests from the nation.

This has worked closely with Department of State representatives, it comes back to DOD, and there's a partnership that occurs and a dialogue at every step of the way. It'd be premature to talk about anything with Taiwan.

We have other nations that we partner with that are outside of the State Partnership Program every day, and we've got relationships that have more recently come into the program. An example would be with Norway in Minnesota, a partnership that existed not within the realm of the State Partnership Program but with combined operations and exercises over 50 years and just formalized last year.

Thanks, Phil.

STAFF: Take another one virtually. We will go to Chris Gordon with Air and Space Forces Magazine.

Q: Hi. Thank you, sir, for doing this. I just would -- as you look forward for the next 30 years of State Partnership Programs, is there going to be an increasing role to train partner nation air forces? And -- and to allude to Jon's point earlier, is there any plan to conduct some space training as well with partner nations?

GEN. ZANA: Chris, thanks for the question. And first, to -- to lead off about the -- the part for (30 years ?), one of the things we often talk about, as we reach this very important milestone of 100 countries at -- at 30 years, there was no goal for us to get to that. It's just kind of how the program's evolved.

As we look forward, one of the things that I talk about in the future is we don't expect the next 30 years to simply be adding another 100 countries and slap the table and -- and we're done. We look at, really, the evolution of -- of the relevance and the focus areas of training and partnership with -- with all the different nations.

What I would say is, while some of the initial partnerships featured a lot more activity that were associated with land forces over the arc of the program in the last 30 years, we see a tremendous increase in the partnerings across Air Force and Air Guard -- I -- and I think we just expect that to -- to continue.

I'd further, and this goes back to John's questions -- we absolutely see a demand signal from our partners and an opportunity to work with them much more closely on space. We see that at scale and at different levels, different nations are either directly involved in some of the things that -- that they want to do for their own interest in terms of space, or that other nations, in some cases, adversaries, have an interest in their capabilities. So it's a great opportunity for us to both learn, grow and -- and share with partners, and I think that access and influence is a very important part of the program. Thanks.

STAFF: Are there any questions here in the room? Jim?

Q: Yes, sir. Good to see you again.

GEN. ZANA: Great to see you, Jim.

Q: You know, (inaudible) -- I haven't spoken to a combatant commander who hasn't praised the State -- State Partnership Program (inaudible).

GEN. ZANA: Yeah.

Q: I mean, they -- they believe it's a -- it's very good expenditure of funds and they want more. Is there any way to speed up the process? I don't think it specifically means, you know, commands like Africa Command or -- or in -- in some of the island nations of -- of Indo-Pacific Command. Any way to speed that process up? Is that a problem with just the process, or is that -- is that a problem that you now are getting sort of limited with who you can add?

GEN. ZANA: Jim, great to see you again, and -- and thanks for the question. I could spend probably an hour just on this and expanding, but I'm going to focus on a -- a couple of aspects of it.

We benefit by the interest and the support from the combatant commanders, the service component commands. One of the great things about the program and my job is everyone wants more of this, and the participants both, when you look at this down at the tactical level, the soldiers and the airmen who are involved in this every day, up to our most senior leaders, they recognize the value and the return on investment. That return-on-investment piece, one of the metrics we often share, it's one percent of the nation's security cooperation budget; results in 20 to 30 percent of the touch points or engagements that combatant commands have. So they inherently see that value and the -- the multipliers that go with that.

When we look at this demand signal for both more partnerships, which is one aspect of it, but also, more resources to go towards the partnerships that we have, it's -- it's kind of a multipronged thing that we've got to work.

The first part in terms of the -- of the year-to-year addition of nations -- this past year was -- was unprecedented in adding five nations, unprecedented since the beginning the program. But it was the right time and the right fit as we looked at the cooperation with the Department of State and Department of Defense, it just made sense to do that. We normally would look at adding just a couple of partners a year, look across the globe at which nations have requested it. That's a key -- a key part of it. Which nations are ready to embark on this? And we see kind of the -- an emergence of many other nations who probably wouldn't have had an interest 20 years ago, who had a keen interest now.

Look no further than what's going on in Ukraine and Russia. We see a great interest from our Nordic partners and other partners in Europe. Enduring interest from Africa, and having spent two of the last four years on -- on continent in Africa, I saw the manifestation of how important those programs were to many of -- of the smaller nations that we deal it, and I say smaller in terms of their overall capacity or defense budget.

The other part to your question that I'd like to -- to just engage on -- we're limited only by -- by resources and -- and imaginations. Oftentimes, some of the most creative activities and the things that happen with the program are an expansion beyond mil-to-mil or the creativity that goes with our soldiers, airmen and their counterparts from other countries.

That said, there are limitations with the funding of the program. The funding processes that we have, it's about a $50 million program. We've often relied very largely each year on congressional adds. That -- that's great and we appreciate that support from the Hill.

The reality is getting this into base budgets is something that would normalize the processes and allow us, especially when we're operating under a Continuing Resolution, a better planning horizon working with our partners.

When you think about what it takes for a state or territory district within the U.S. to coordinate through a combatant command with a foreign partner, that -- just the -- add (inaudible) logistics of that to make it happen. It's a challenge and we make it very difficult. When you look at nearly 100 percent execution of -- of funds last year, it's just because of those efforts.

That said, with shortfalls in budget this year, we've got hundreds of events that we've either had to cancel or postpone, and these are all events that are very much aligned with our National Defense Strategy and very much aligned with our partners and our combatant commands' theater strategies.

And from my viewpoint, one of the things I -- I often cite -- you have so many stakeholders of this program but all of the stakeholders see the richness and the goodness of that. You could almost draw a Venn diagram of what a -- a -- a nation partner wants to do, kind of plot those points, what a chief of mission and ambassador, his or her staff want to do, in terms of their focus, look at what a combatant command wants to do, look at our strategy and look at the capabilities within the Guard.

All those things come together in a little bit of a sweet spot, where you then target what is it that builds the most readiness within our formations and how do we leverage that, working with our partners? The fact that it can adjust year to year, event to event, exercise to exercise, that dynamic part is -- is important.

I'd suggest that if we had full funding from the services and that -- those congressional adds -- and again, we appreciate that support -- are focused on those things that are emergent to the combatant commanders within year of execution.

We look at what's going on within Ukraine right now and supporting our partners who are supporting that fight. This is a vital way that the program got 30 years of trusted relationships and partnerships that go back to all the countries that are most directly involved in this. Recent discussions with our Polish counterparts, our Romanian counterparts, our Ukrainian counterparts, it's just -- you see the -- the importance of the program.

So additional, I think the -- the resources having a -- a process that we can -- we can depend on a little bit more soundly year to year is helpful, and then continued measured growth, and I think that goes in partnership, again, with Department of State and Department of Defense. Thanks, Jim.

Q: And if I could just --


Q: -- a little bit -- you -- 30 years is -- some of you -- some of you guys have grown up with your partners. I mean, that has to -- that has to be worth something there alone.

GEN. ZANA: Yeah, so one of the keys that I see -- and I've -- I've been the person who's gone into different nations or worked on different exercise and events where it's a short duration partnership and both sides of this -- you still want -- you -- you bring goodwill to that but it's not the same as having a -- a relationship that has endured over many, many years, where you -- you know, you exchange information outside of this, families know one another, you've broken bread on both sides of an ocean.

That trust, you -- you can't build that overnight. Those seeds that are planted, I think it's something that is -- we, as a -- as United States military, particularly good at and our partners are really good at.

The other piece is that if you look across the forces, there's so many soldiers and airmen on both the U.S. side and our -- our counterparts' side who have only known an existence, a context for their military service in which they had a partnership. So they look back and this is as much a part -- it's kind of the lore or the legacy within units -- that they hear this from the people who went before them, they hear stories about the events that they did, the challenges in training, the -- the shared aspect of this.

We wouldn't have realized when the program first started that it would then, years later, result in the co-deployments, forces from the National Guard deploying in harm's way and losing service members alongside partners.

The richness of those connections, it -- it can't be -- can't be overstated, and it's one of those things that I think has made the -- the program both -- both popular and this enduring enthusiasm for it. Thanks.

STAFF: We'll take another virtual question, and we'll go to Carla Babb with Voices of America (sic).

Q: Hey, General, Carla Babb with VOA. Thanks for doing this. I just want to follow up on what you said about Ukraine. Can you talk about how the spillover from the war in Ukraine has affected the California partnership, for example, and not just that partnership but the partnership with the -- with the surrounding countries, like Moldova, like Poland, like Romania?

GEN. ZANA: Carla -- and I appreciate the question and I think this has been one of the things that has really brought, for many people, the -- the State Partnership Program into the news and into -- into the vision of -- of folks who may have otherwise not realized the -- the depth and the breadth of the relationships.

So in advance of Russia's invasion of -- of Ukraine, we were doing close partnerships, not just with the -- with California and Ukraine. One of the things we often refer to is you marry one state but you get the whole family with the Guard.

So when there is a capability that doesn't exist within one Guard, Army Guard or Air Guard, within a state, we reach across the 54 states, territories, and District to be able to get additional resources or capability. This sort of dynamic shift really plays well to being able to support our partners' needs, demands and expectations in real time. We've got some flexibility that's built in by scaling this across the 54.

In advance of Russia's invasion, we were working closely -- and if you think about some of the things that have been, I think, sources of great success in Ukraine's success in defending itself against this unjust, illegal invasion, you see the manifestation of that on the battlefield.

Some examples of that that I would cite that I think are very important -- the emphasis that we place on unit and tactical level leadership, driven by non-commissioned officers, NCOs, and enlisted professional development.

That culture within the U.S. military and within many of our partners and allies is -- is not something that is -- has been a -- an aspect or a strength within all countries, and I think it's something that we've shared. If you look at the small unit tactics and -- and success within Ukraine, I think part of that is attributed back to much of the work that was done between Ukraine, California, and other partners in the region.

I'd also say that when you look at the -- the U.S. focus on building readiness and capabilities and the building blocks, how we -- we manage training, whether this be Army or Air, of individual, lower level collective and building that, I think you can see the evidence that Ukraine has leveraged this to great effect against Russian forces.

Similarly, I think that this has really supercharged the effort for the neighbor nations there, both in advance of the invasion and certainly afterwards. We see a -- a galvanizing of the relationships in NATO and I think a -- galvanizing in the support across the State Partnership Program.

One of the things that the State Partnership Program brings to the combatant commanders and DOD writ large is a connection of not just these bilateral relationships but multilateral relationships. I say the multilateral because often if there is a combatant command exercise or event or a service component command event, the State Partnership becomes a multiplier to -- to bringing in additional partners and players from other nations who may have otherwise not been a part of that. The richness of growing those capabilities then -- I -- I think it manifests in -- in growth and capabilities on -- on all sides.

One of the examples I often use -- and this is indirectly related to what we're talking about. We have a small state, Vermont, that has three state partners: their oldest, North Macedonia, now celebrating 30 years; a 15-year-old relationship with the nation of Senegal in Africa, and the first-year relationship with Austria. Seeing now the interaction between those three nations, some of that which occurs completely out of the -- the realm of what we do with State Partnership becomes a multiplier for each of those partners, and we definitely see that in Eastern Europe.

Carla, thanks for the question.

STAFF: Do we have any questions here in the room, or follow-ups?

Okay, John. 

Q: Just a quick follow-up. With regard to Ukraine, has the Partnership program been paused, essentially, since the Russian invasion? Are you providing any assistance, you know, remotely? And then just kind of looking ahead, you know, long-term assistance to Ukraine's been a big topic of discussion at the ongoing NATO Summit.

GEN. ZANA: Yeah.

Q: Are you looking to expand that relationship in the future, specifically through this program or just through the Guard writ large in terms of improving Ukraine's long-term security posture?

GEN. ZANA: Sure, John. I'll -- I'll take that in two parts. First off, we've continued to do training and support both for Ukraine and -- and other partners. Obviously, things have had to shift to areas where we could do that training safely. And I think as we look at equipment that's been fielded in support of Ukraine's efforts, and not just equipment, but capabilities that -- that are needed to grow to support both the fight, and then the support from nations we're -- we're helping with everything from logistics, training -- all the things that it takes to -- to bring the capability to bear on the battlefield. That has continued and will continue there.

I think the -- to me, it seems that there will be growth in the demand signal from our partners in a number of ways. First off, our partners have paid a tremendous price in supporting and providing equipment. Much of the equipment that they had that was not, obviously, backfilled, or they didn't have ready backfills for types and pieces of equipment, that is going to have to be -- that demand signal is going to have to be met. So I think there'll be new equipment that there'll be an opportunity.

The Guard Army there do an exceptional job of doing new-equipment training and new-equipment fielding. It's kind of a bread-and-butter for something that happens across the 54 every day, and it's a logical expansion to help our partners as they field replacement equipment and train up in that.

I think the two-way street aspect of it -- we always look at this as being kind of a shoulder-to-shoulder. We learn from our partners and they learn from us. We share best practices, and I think this is an opportunity as we look to the future, and hopefully, at -- at some point, peace in the region, that there will be a reset that's needed for all the militaries who have done so much to support Ukraine, and indeed, with Ukraine themselves. And I think we'll be, you know, postured to be able to support that, working very closely with the combatant commander and across the department.

Thanks, John.

STAFF: We have time for one more question. We have a virtual one in the queue. We will go to Gina Cavallaro with Army Magazine.

Q: Thank you. Thanks, General Zana, for doing this. You said there were five nations added in the last year, and then that was the most -- a -- a big year for adding nations. What do you see in the coming year or the coming five years? And can you tell us, I guess in closing, to the uninitiated, make a statement about why the National Guard is the right way for this program to continue?

GEN. ZANA: Thanks for the question. So first off, this year, the way things worked out to add, like, three African partners. Malawi and Zambia will be a combined partnership, and we're currently evaluating the applications for multiple states who wish to -- to be a part of that. Gabon, another African nation which will be added. We added both Samoa to an existing partnership with -- with Nevada, and then Norway and Minnesota, I mentioned the formalization of this partnership that's existed for 50 years.

You look to the future, I think we look at the capacity to expand the program as being a couple of nations a year, and I purposely don't put a specific number on it because it's dependent upon both what the nations request, the combatant commanders and Department of State support, and then it is reliant on funding. We don't want to spread ourselves so thin that we're not able to have the depth of -- of the training, operations, exercise and exchanges that -- that each of these partners deserve.

And our -- the evolution of this, I think, is going to continue. There'll be some years where there'll be a slightly larger and a slightly not -- less number. So I think over the -- the five years, we'll see that evolve.

The -- the second part, you know, I think the Guard is -- is just uniquely suited to this program, and there's a lot of different ways you can look at that. First off, Citizen Soldiers -- this whole idea of -- of having both civilian capabilities, a connection back to state and community and a community-based force. A lot of times with our partners, this is -- this is a more approachable or an easier construct for them to engage with. You often find that we have civilian skill sets across the Guard. This is true for the rest of the reserve components and security cooperation, but the Guard really excels at this. Those civilian skills, which then translate to something that you can do on the ground.

An example that I provided for a couple of years deployed in Africa, I saw there were often things that were asked for by our partners that weren't necessarily strictly a military capability, but there was a civilian experience set that we could bring to bear to help the partner in that. So often, as we start with a mil-to-mil engagement, that expands into the whole-of-government.

And the whole-of-government part is really -- I describe it as the special sauce for the -- for the program. You start having things like municipalities working as sister cities and towns with one another. You look at state government doing engagements. We've had many foreign partners visiting their states, and similarly, governors and officials from states going to their state partners, academic to academic, think tank to think tank, economic first responder -- all of these things add a richness to this whole-of-government experience that I think the Guard's uniquely suited to -- to fill.

When we see the very best of the programs, they're the programs that expand into this space in a way that is authentic to both the capabilities and needs of both the state and the nation. There's just this richness and this relationship that occurs. And then it's where the imaginations go, and typically, these things are -- are not things that -- that we're funding from the Department of Defense. They're -- they're a bonus that starts building trust and -- and confidence and deepening those roots.

When I look at some of the pairings -- and I saw this both in -- in deployments within CENTCOM/EUCOM AOR and -- and with AFRICOM AOR, you see that there are relationships between the state and the nation that start building an understanding that our nations and our states have so much in common in terms of their desire for having peace and security, the opportunities for prosperity, the opportunities to -- to educate and -- and have safety for families.

When we get folks together from both sides of this equation, we often see that we're far more alike and we have so much in shared values. That is one of those things that really goes to building trust and I think building a -- a warmth that exists in -- in so many of these relationships. It's just something that the Guard does well and our nation partners really respond well to.

Thanks for the question, Gina.

STAFF: All right. Thank you, General Zana, and thank you to all of those in the room and online for joining us today. Please feel free to send additional questions to the National Guard Bureau Media Desk, and we will follow up on those and any taken questions as soon as possible. Thank you.