News: Ambassador: National Guard uniquely suited to peacekeeping operations
Story by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill
SINAI PENINSULA, Egypt – The National Guard is playing a critical role supporting desert peacekeepers at a critical moment in the Middle East, the director general of the Multinational Force and Observers said here Sunday.
The National Guard is a perfect fit for peacekeeping and stability operations such as the MFO’s mission here, Ambassador David Satterfield said.
“I know what the Guard can do,” said Satterfield. “I have watched the Guard in action in Iraq. I have seen the superb work which the Guard performs under the most challenging of circumstances. You have proved yourself in the most challenging of combat situations around the world, and you are proving yourself in this noncombat but still extraordinarily challenging mission.”
Satterfield hosted a Middle East troop visit and fact-finding mission led by Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, with other senior National Guard leaders, including the adjutant general and the command sergeant major of the Maryland National Guard, whose citizen-soldiers are currently deployed here. Missouri National Guard members also are currently deployed here.
“This is not in the Sinai a kinetic undertaking,” Satterfield said. “It requires a different set of skills. I believe – and the government of Egypt believes – the Guard has performed superbly. You are ideally suited to this citizen-soldier mission…You make the MFO possible,” Satterfield said.
“The National Guard has had a long partnership [with the MFO], and we are grateful for that relationship,” McKinley said. “We are proud to be a part of this.”
A peace treaty between Egypt and Israel – the Camp David Accords – was negotiated in 1979. The United Nations balked at providing peacekeepers. A U.S.-led international coalition took the baton in 1982 and – sharing the cost with the treaty signatories – has been carrying it for the almost 30 years since.
The National Guard has made the lead American contribution to the MFO for almost a decade, after a gradual transition from active duty forces that began in 2002.
The MFO is a partnership between the United States, Egypt, Israel and state Army National Guard units, Satterfield said.
“There is no better force, no better multinational cooperation … anywhere in the deployed world,” Satterfield said. “It is a tribute to the preparations and the leadership which the states have provided us, which the Army National Guard and the National Guard Bureau have given us – your support has been invaluable.”
About 7,500 National Guard members from 16 states and Puerto Rico have rotated through here since the Guard became the predominant contributor.
The National Guard’s assets include the maturity and life experience of its troops, who are citizen-soldiers who bring civilian-acquired skills to their military mission, Satterfield said.
The MFO’s mission is to monitor, verify and report the compliance of Egypt and Israel with the peace treaty terms. The desert peacekeepers help to sustain and build confidence, trust and security between two critically important nations, Satterfield said.
“It has never been more important, it has never been more immediate, it has never been more vital than it is today,” he said. “Egypt since January has undergone revolutionary changes.
“The last nine months have been for Egyptians as well as for the MFO a period of extraordinary transformation and extraordinary challenge.
“There has been one constant:…the commitment of the Egyptian military, the commitment of the government of Egypt to the treaty of peace.”
The MFO has helped its partners to reaffirm peace and stability in the Sinai and between Egypt and Israel during a period of radical transition in Egypt and the wider Middle East, Satterfield said.
“The events in the Middle East, but particularly the events in Egypt since January this year, have … fundamentally transformed what is going on here – here in the Sinai, the region as a whole and Egypt in general,” Satterfield said.
Satterfield’s career has focused on the Middle East for 32 years. Sharp differences continue between Egypt and Israel, Satterfield said, but: "Never has there been a moment where the military-to-military dialog and relationship between Egypt and Israel has been as close, as strong, as frank as it has been since January.”
One measure of that was the recent mutually agreed deployment of Egyptian military forces and equipment to areas of the Sinai they have not entered as an operational force since 1967, Satterfield said.
“That’s a tribute to both sides, it’s a tribute to the MFO and to the interest of peace each party displays.”
Their leadership’s enthusiasm for the mission is shared by the troops on the ground.
Maryland Army National Guard 1st Sgt. Peter Polaski Jr. was first deployed here in 1995 for a pilot initiative that tested the Guard’s ability to fulfill a mission previously tasked to the active duty component.
“We proved that we could,” Polaski said. “We’ve definitely established that we can maintain continuity. That’s the most important piece.”
Sixteen years later, after a decade of Guard rotations here, “It’s very rewarding to come full circle and be here again and assist … Egypt and Israel,” he said. “We bring a lot of talent to the table – that’s one of the strong suits of the National Guard.”
Maryland Army National Guard Spc. Denise Wright calls her decision to enlist in 2009, “The best decision I ever made.”
Wright said she is proud her first overseas deployment is here, where she serves as a radio specialist. In down time, she is continuing to pursue her college computer engineering studies and learning to swim. She said the Guard and her role in this mission have helped her grow.
Army Maj. Gen. Jim Adkins, the adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, met with deployed Guard members at a town hall meeting in an amphitheater on the Red Sea.
“This nation asks more of the Guard today than it did when this battalion went ashore at Normandy Beach in 1944,” Adkins told troops. “Our nation asks more of you than any generation since … World War II.”
Maryland and Missouri Guard members are performing one vital mission among many the Guard is conducting in the United States and overseas, Adkins said.
“You are at a place and time in history … that tremendous actions are taking place in this area. We don’t know how it’s going to end up, but for the rest of your career you will be able to say that you participated – you were there for this change in world history.”
Satterfield praised Maryland and Missouri Guard members for their work here.
“You guys are superb,” he told troops. “With every successive state deployment, we get better and better troopers. The Egyptians and the Israelis see it. They express their appreciation to me.”