A small, but innovative, program demonstrates the U.S. military's "very agile and flexible" capabilities in working with partners, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said recently.
Meeting with reporters January 5, 2012 after the announcement of President Barack Obama's new strategic guidance for the U.S. military, Navy Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. brought up the National Guard's State Partnership Program as an example of an ongoing effort that lines up well with the new strategy.
"It's a very high-leverage program where individual states will partner with another nation in Europe or Africa or Asia," Winnefeld said. "It's proven to be a very, very valuable high-leverage tool for us, … so we plan to build on things like that to help us on these innovative approaches to other parts of the world."
In a subsequent interview with American Forces Press Service, Air Force Colonel Joey Booher, chief of international affairs for the National Guard Bureau, said the program is where "the rubber meets the road."
"It's a [Defense Department] program that's managed by the National Guard Bureau, but executed by the states," he explained. "The states, the adjutant general, the state coordinator who works with the combatant commander's staff and the partner nation [work] to meet collective security cooperation objectives."
Booher said the fall of the Berlin Wall and U.S. military leadership's engagement with the former Warsaw Pact nations were the impetus for the program's creation.
"The U.S. was trying to engage with the former communist nations that were in the Warsaw Pact, and using active duty troops might have been a little too offensive to the Russians or the folks that were in there, so the idea was to use the small footprint of National Guard troops," he said.
The state adjutants general partnered with Air Force Lieutenant General John B. Conaway, then the chief of the National Guard Bureau, to explore how to do this, Booher added.
Booher noted the National Guard was a "perfect fit" because of its force structure and capabilities such as disaster response, consequence management, interaction between the state governments and the federal government.
"What the goals of the program were back then were promoting American principles and values while supporting democracy abroad, and also building institutions to keep Americans safe and the world peaceful," he said. "Those were the broad objectives we had."
The colonel lauded the program's success as it approaches its 20th anniversary in 2013.
The first three partnerships were developed in 1993 with the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, he said, and all three partnerships still are going strong.
"It started off with [those] three countries, and right now we have 63 partnerships spread throughout 69 countries around the globe," he said. "So if you're just looking for growth in the program, … that's a testament to what its accomplished in its goals and objectives."
Booher said the original partnerships were between Michigan and Latvia, Pennsylvania and Lithuania, and Maryland and Estonia.
"What we do is partner one country with one state, and that way the continuity is there," he said. "Why do we do that? The best thing that you get out of this is the relationship. So we feel the state partnership -- that enduring, persistent relationship over time -- that's money."
Those relationships are a critical factor, Booher noted, especially in light of the recent announcement the U.S. Army will replace two brigades in Europe with rotating units.
"The state partnership program is that connective tissue back to the States for DOD, for the Guard, for the country teams [and] for [the] State [Department]," he said.
The State Partnership Program now provides 31,309 troops and military experts to United Nations peacekeeping efforts," Booher noted. "These critical partner-country deployments reduce pressure [on] U.S. forces worldwide and reduce the need for more direct and costly U.S. military involvement in future contingencies," he added. Booher cited the Colorado-Jordan F-16 relationship as an example.
"You have Jordan, who participated in the Libyan effort, helped and facilitated by Colorado Guardsmen to get them up to a point where now they're able to take on NATO taskings on their own without our heavy support," he said.
Looking forward, the colonel said, the program's goal is to be the best force provider for the Defense Department's security cooperation goals. "That's what I see," he added. "If the [combatant commanders] have a requirement [or] if DOD has a requirement for security cooperation, then we're there and ready to support, as resources allow."
Booher said he believes the State Partnership Program also is efficient in terms of budgetary concerns.
"This is a great 'bang for the buck' in a time of reduced budgets," he said. "And again, as Admiral Winnefeld said, we need innovative approaches, and SPP is a low-cost, high-impact, very valuable high-leverage program that is very relevant to our new defense strategy."
The colonel noted that the vice chairman brought up the $13.5 million dollar program in his press briefing without prompting, out of many other DOD programs he might have talked about instead.
"I think that might be a testament to just how valuable this has become," he said. "This is a good program. This is good for America."
AFRICOM PAO note: As of January 2012, U.S. Africa Command has eight state partners in its area of responsibility: Botswana and North Carolina; Ghana and North Dakota; Liberia and Michigan; Morocco and Utah; Nigeria and California; Senegal and Vermont; South Africa and New York; and Tunisia and Wyoming. More than 100 State Partnership events occur annually. The State Partnership Program supports the AFRICOM theater objective of enhanced regional stability through military professionalism. The SPP also supports interagency efforts by focusing on the following areas: peace and security, good governance, investing in people, economic development and humanitarian assistance.
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