News: National Guard helping America sustain enduring global partnerships
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill
PRISTINA, Kosovo - The National Guard State Partnership Program is an invaluable tool for the United States and for the nation's foreign partners, U.S. and foreign leaders said here Wednesday.
"The National Guard State Partnership Program is our most productive relationship," said Akim Ceku, minister of the Kosovo Security Force.
U.S. Ambassador Tracey Jacobson said the 20-year-old program that pairs state National Guards with more than one third of the world's countries also is hugely useful in building enduring partnerships both with Kosovo and regionally.
Ceku and Jacobson told Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, that National Guard processes are being emulated overseas.
For example, Balkan leaders are discussing using the National Guard's Emergency Management Assistance Compact between states as a model for regional cooperation between nations facing natural or man-made disasters.
General Grass also has heard similar observations during an ongoing trip to multiple countries to meet with troops, combatant commanders, other leaders and foreign partners. Grass said that the SPP is a critical tool in reassuring America's partners about the nation's continued commitment to enduring partnerships during a time of fiscal constraint and budgetary challenges.
With an annual cost in the $9 million to $13 million range, the SPP sees more than 600 events successfully executed between U.S. states and foreign countries each year.
"It is a reciprocal partnership that is just phenomenal," Grass said.
In the Kosovo example, Minister Ceku cited a litany of benefits for his country: Iowa National Guard members are helping Kosovo improve firefighting and hazardous materials capabilities; professionalizing its noncommissioned officer corps; and advancing Kosovo's goal to become a security provider by one day contributing to overseas peacekeeping and other operations.
The Iowa Guard is helping "make us become a force for good," Ceku said. "You are a model for our society in many areas - the U.S. in general, and the Iowa Guard in particular."
Ambassador Jacobson said the relationship has also been a catalyst to non-military activities separate from the National Guard's involvement, such as student exchanges and business investment.
Some of the SPP's success lies in the National Guard's unique dual mission supporting the Army and the Air Force in federal missions while serving as America's first military responder at home. This construct also has the added benefit of attracting recruits who are professional Soldiers and Airmen with accomplished civilian skills.
During his trip, Grass and his senior enlisted adviser, Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mitch Brush, have heard from Guard members about their multiple overseas deployments - in one soldier's case, eight and counting - in the last 12 years. They also heard first-hand accounts of Guard members responding to domestic state active duty missions ranging from support to national security special events to defense support to civil authorities after hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, snowstorms, flooding and the Boston bombings.
"We bring an extraordinarily rich tapestry of skills and experience to our overseas partnerships that our partners value tremendously," Grass said, "and Guard members benefit in return. Iowa soldiers and airmen, for example, have brought home strengthened skills and an invaluably enriched geopolitical perspective."