The Defense Department is turning to the National Guard to further build goodwill
and military cooperation with foreign nations.
The state partnership program, started in the early aftermath of the Cold War
as an outreach to former Soviet Union satellites, now is taking a prominent
position in the effort to combat international terrorism.
“We’re a soft-power tool,” said Col. Mark Kalber, the National
Guard Bureau’s chief of international affairs, which oversees the program.
“We are in the security cooperation toolbox for the secretary of defense
and combatant commanders to use.”
The Guard’s state partnership program matches state units with national
militaries to help countries modernize their forces, observe the concept of
civilian control of the military in action and promote civil-military relationships.
Nations interested in forming or maintaining their reserve forces, finding cost-effective
methods of downsizing militaries, or looking to restructure their force mix
often embrace the chance for tutoring by the U.S. National Guard.
“It’s a mutually beneficial program. We’ve been trying to
establish a partnership for two years,” said Batzorig Bayar, defense attaché
to the United States at the Mongolian embassy in Washington D.C. His nation
has been partnered with Alaska’s National Guard since September 2003.
“Mongolia is a very small country, with as small a population as Alaska.
We face the same problems.”
Bayar said that Alaska and Mongolia shared the same need to prepare and respond
to fierce natural disasters and operate in challenging terrain. “We are
very interested in the National Guard as citizen-soldiers. We have a small population,
and we can’t afford a big army.”
The partnership was the seed of future collaborations, including medical and
survival training exercises with Alaska Guard units. Alaskan Guard officers
also are in the field assisting Mongolian troops in the coalition to stabilize
A world map hanging across from Kalber’s office desk is pegged with black
pins signifying countries with active state partnership programs. Two clusters
are prominent: states of Eastern Europe and the additions of the late 1990s
throughout Latin America. Forty-six partnerships are currently active, and some
states have taken two nations as partners.
The Guard’s dual missions of domestic disaster response and overseas
deployments make it a versatile candidate for this type of outreach, Kalber
said. Military organizations of varying levels of sophistication can benefit
from familiarization with the Guard’s structure and procedures, Kalber
said. Many times a state’s Guard and foreign military will have a similar
number of troops and familiar equipment, giving partners something with which
to relate, he noted.
The program does not have funding or authority to do training, but it does
serve as a matchmaker and liaison between the partner countries and Guard elements.
Officials also promote civilian ties between local business and government officials,
The program can be used as a catalyst for closer ties across the civilian and
military spectrum, and organizers of any bilateral training or exercises often
first consider Guard units from the state partner.
Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard is a big booster of the
program, which is adding partnerships in areas of concern to commanders, such
as Africa and the Middle East. Newly approved partnerships include Tunisia with
Wyoming and Ghana with North Dakota, both of which joined within the last two
In July, the Kingdom of Jordan and the Colorado Guard formed a plan to create
the first state partnership with a Middle Eastern nation. In visits with U.S.
leaders, Prince Feisal Ibn al-Hussein said he was interested in becoming familiar
with operating training centers for high-altitude air operations. Final approval
from the U.S. Central Command is pending, but expected by year’s end,
In 2003, the ground rules changed when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed
the security cooperation guidance document that gave a sharper focus to the
program. The new guidelines, pegging collaborations on specific priorities of
combatant commanders, provide structure to the program that Kalber said focuses
his mission in a way that was absent before September 11, 2001.
“In the 1990s, there was this thing called ‘engagement for engagement’s
sake.’ That’s over,” he told National Defense. “It was
appropriate for the 1990s, when we were feeling our way … We are beyond
going out and just shaking hands.”
Specific programs under the auspices of these partnerships are initiated by
the host nation, typically a request from a senior official to a U.S. ambassador.
From there, the combatant commander will determine if the goals of the proposal
meet a mission priority. If it does, the proposal will then be evaluated by
Blum’s office, and if approved, shifted to Kalber’s office of international
The program relies on one dependable metric to gauge the interest of combatant
commanders: funding. Commanders foot the bill for any workshops or information
exchange. “They have to set the priorities,” Kalber said.
For example, if a nation was concerned with the inaccuracies in medical records
of its reserve units, it could ask to set up a workshop on National Guard practices.
If those inaccuracies were decreasing readiness and adding to instability in
that combatant commander’s sphere of responsibility, funding approval
could be granted. Kalber’s team then would establish contact with those
best able to meet the goals, coordinate with the foreign nationals and provide
support in running the event.
Overall, the office of international affairs spends between $5,000 and $7,000
per event. Sometimes, money will be dedicated to bringing officials from civilian
agencies, such as local emergency services or the Federal Emergency Management
Agency, to participate. Demonstrating the close working relationship of the
civilian and military units is one of each program’s core goals, Kalber
“The challenge here is how you accurately measure [progress],”
Kalber said. “You can measure the efficiency of an assembly line by the
number of widgets it makes. But how do you measure the effect on an information
The Guard, as an institution, benefits by keeping units interested and engaged,
thinking of the larger international security picture, learning from the methods
of other militaries and giving them a chance to make a difference on a global
scale, he explained. “Our program is based on people exchange. You can
do a lot without moving around planes and tanks.”