Tag Archives: State Partnership Program

International armies embrace NCO development

 

By MARTHA C. KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army has long understood that developing noncommissioned officers is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage. Though not every nation has embraced NCO development, Army senior enlisted leaders with U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Army North and U.S. Army South continue to impart the message to partnering nations that empowering NCOs is the key to success.

Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM, acknowledged the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not pose a threat to their jobs. Molidor, U.S. Army leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts during the second day of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals/NCO Journal)
Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM, acknowledges the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not pose a threat to their jobs. Molidor, U.S. Army leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts during the second day of the International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South. “We never force NCO development because the country may not want it. It’s always done by, through and with [their cooperation], and it’s always at their request. In all of our cases, the foreigners have asked us to work with them to develop a more professional noncommissioned officer corps.”

U.S. and international senior enlisted leaders and State Partnership Program members focused on fostering international partnerships and NCO professional development when they gathered April 13 during the second day of the 2016 International Training and Leader Development Symposium in El Paso, Texas. U.S. military leaders and state partners gave updates about NCO development efforts within their areas of responsibility.

“One thing we have learned that’s kind of hard to do is we need to engage with most senior leadership on NCO development in Central and South America to get the real results,” said Navy Fleet Master Chief Terrence Molidor, command senior enlisted leader for North American Aerospace Defense Command and USNORTHCOM. “When that happens, it really gains a foothold and then our SPP partner nations start working on NCO development events.”

Empower the NCO

International senior enlisted leaders focused on fostering partnerships with their American counterparts at the symposium. (Photo by James Seals / NCO Journal)
International senior enlisted leaders focused on fostering partnerships with their American counterparts at the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by James Seals / NCO Journal)

U.S. senior enlisted leaders acknowledged the challenges in persuading some countries’ leaders that the empowerment of NCOs does not necessarily pose a threat to their jobs.

“You have some differences between the very senior leadership and that mid-grade officer leadership,” said Command Sgt. Maj. William B. Zaiser, senior enlisted leader for USSOUTHCOM. “That mid-grade officer leadership feels a little more challenged by a more empowered NCO, where I think the senior leadership, through the experiences they have had working in the United States and with partner nations, see the value in it.”

“We are trying to crack the code with Mexico, to get them to realize that having a strong NCO corps not only makes their military stronger it makes them better,” Molidor said. “NCO development is not really a top priority in Mexico, whereas in the Bahamas it is a priority.”

Olvera said NCO development takes precedence at Army South.

“When I travel internationally with [Army South Commander] Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, we engage the other army commander,” Olvera said. “Chinn is always bringing up: ‘What are you doing to develop your leaders? You can influence them. Show them the way that we do it.’ Then, he often asks, ‘Are you developing noncommissioned officers? Here is my sergeant major who can talk about NCO development.’ It’s work.”

U.S. senior enlisted leaders also agreed that all NCO corps don’t have to be identical to the U.S. model.

“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South, during the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
“We have developed a regional strategy for NCO development with individual countries,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carlos Olvera, senior enlisted advisor for Army South, during the International Training and Leader Development Symposium. (Photo by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“I think if there’s one thing we do wrong sometimes it’s that we think the only good NCO corps is the U.S. NCO Corps, so they all need to look like us,” Zaiser said. “One thing we have learned from our gatherings is that that is absolutely not true. We have El Salvador, which has its soldiers [maintaining order] in its streets in a semi-policing environment. That’s something Colombia has had to do for 30-plus years. Those different threats drive a different look of an NCO corps. Some are more aligned to being able to react to national disaster and humanitarian efforts. That’s a thing we learned early on: Don’t make this massive effort to try to make them look exactly like our corps.”

Warrant Officer 1 Anthony Lysight, force sergeant major of the Jamaica Defence Force, said his country’s NCO corps is similar to that of El Salvador and Colombia.

“In Jamaica, we have a system of NCOs that work starting from the roots,” Lysight said. “We are on the streets, assisting police to maintain law and order. We have the lowest NCO, the lance corporal, in charge of small teams. They go out and find the bad guys. It is a system that works.”

Lessons learned

U.S. senior enlisted leaders and state program partners agreed that they have learned a lot from working with partner nations.

“When we go down and do these exchange trainings, we are learning as much if not more than what we have imparted on our partners,” Zaiser said. “Probably one common thing they exhibit in addressing their threats is strict adherence to standards and discipline. Jamaica talked about that lance corporal walking down the street ─ he has to be a confident, disciplined noncommissioned officer who has not only the trust of his command but the trust of the population of that country. When we traveled in Central and South America, we learned that the Catholic church and military are the most respected institutions in the country.”

Held up as the textbook model for what “right looks like,” Colombia’s army has successfully developed its NCO corps through persistent engagement, said senior enlisted leaders for USSOUTHCOM and Army South. The country has been locked in a civil conflict against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia for more than 50 years.

“To see where they are now is pretty incredible,” Zaiser said. “They are taking partner nation capacity and exporting it to other countries. It’s pretty much the end-state that you hope you get.”

Colombia is no doubt the example in the region and perhaps even elsewhere in terms of having a threat, defeating the threat and then exporting security expertise based on what they developed,” Olvera said.

Sgt. Maj. Henry Whistler Dulce Dulce, sergeant major of the Colombian army, said his nation’s leadership has learned many lessons fighting terrorist groups for the past 50 years.

“The important thing in this is the NCO corps has been the backbone of the victory of the Colombian army,” Dulce said. “The NCOs have been involved in every step in the fight against terrorism. Many years ago, the NCOs did not have the responsibility that they have now. But during the past years, NCO development has been a work in progress.”

Colombia’s army has also established a sergeant major academy and is inviting other countries from Central and South America into their schoolhouse to learn from them. Dulce said because of NCO development, all generals and colonels are asking to receive a sergeant major ─ a position that has become indispensable in the command of the Colombian armed forces.

Dulce believes the reason his army has been so successful in developing its NCO corps is because it has never deviated from the model.

“My main campaign during my time as sergeant major of the army was to make our NCOs proud to be an NCO and start to change the culture,” Dulce said. “That way, everyone understands their role. NCOs learn the role of the officer, NCO and soldier. Everybody understands their role and works together.”

U.S. senior enlisted leaders also spoke of the strides other countries have made in NCO development, including Brazil, El Salvador and Chile.

“Chile has a very professional, very structural army,” Olvera said. “Zaiser and I visited when they appointed Sgt. Maj. Julio Peña as the first sergeant major of their army. They essentially have a vision for the NCOs [which mirrors that of the U.S.] They have a structured self-development, some resident courses, some development courses throughout the ranks, so as one gets promoted they must attend a leader development course and then they get promoted. I was truly impressed.”

SPP: Being the backbone where NCOs aren’t treated as such

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

As one of the original participants in the State Partnership Program, the New Jersey National Guard has built a solid and valuable relationship with Albania during the past 20 years. But at the core of the partnership lies a discrepancy that is common to many SPP pairings: American NCOs often have far more responsibilities and authority than their counterparts in other nations’ armies. Consequently, as they support the bilateral SPP missions directed by combatant commands, U.S. Army NCOs have the additional job of imparting what being the “backbone of the Army” means as they help their fellow noncommissioned officers develop professional NCO corps in their own countries.

New Jersey National Guard NCOs and Albanian soldiers carry a casualty on a litter during a medical evacuation training exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, May 29, 2011. (Photo by Pfc. Stephen Solomon)
New Jersey National Guard NCOs and Albanian soldiers carry a casualty on a litter during a medical evacuation training exercise at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, May 29, 2011. (Photo by Pfc. Stephen Solomon)

Albania’s top NCO said he is grateful for the help in raising the profile of NCOs in his country, whose armed forces are celebrating the “Year of the NCO” this year.

 “Albanian NCOs have not been used very much in the past,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Proletar Panxha, the sergeant major of the Albanian armed forces. “But now, we have been trying to build a good NCO corps with the support of the United States, especially through training and education.

“Our NCOs have learned a lot,” Panxha said. “There are a lot of NCOs who benefit from this, not just me. First of all, we have made a good friend. Second, we have learned how the United States’ and the New Jersey National Guard’s NCOs do business and cooperate with officers.”

Old ways of thinking still dominate Albanian officers’ attitudes toward enlisted soldiers, said Staff Sgt. Toby Tirrito, a plans and operations NCO with the New Jersey National Guard.

“Three years ago, we were shipping surplus bulletproof vests over there, and I remember specifically speaking with one of the Albanian NCOs. Then an officer came over and stood in front of him and said, ‘No, you’re going to talk to me.’ It’s a totally different climate over there. An officer is way up here, and NCOs are really just soldiers who just do what their told.”

Nonetheless, Albania’s armed forces are gradually understanding the vital role of professional NCOs, said Maj. Richard Karcher, the state partnership coordinator for the New Jersey National Guard.

“It wasn’t that long ago that they got rid of conscription. So they are still in that mind frame — if you’re not an officer, you’re a worker bee,” he said. “But slowly they are getting there. In my one-year deployment [with Albanian forces], I could see the change start to happen. Once they saw our NCOs leading convoys, being convoy commanders and doing convoy briefs, and me giving them responsibilities, they were just astonished.”

“We do still have some officers with the old mentality,” said Sgt. Maj. Ilmi Popshini, the Albanian armed forces’ J-1 sergeant major. “It is not so easy for them to change. But for our young generation of officers, they have had good cooperation with the NCOs. They accept the NCOs to be close to them, and that is very important. For sure, we cannot say we’re at 100 percent. But that mentality has been changed a lot.”

 

Leading and learning by example

Learning the differences between the U.S. Army NCO Corps and that of a foreign army helps New Jersey National Guard NCOs appreciate what they have, said Master Sgt. Brian Holderness, a senior intelligence analyst with the New Jersey National Guard.

New Jersey National Guard NCOs Albanian soldiers depart from a helicopter during a medical evacuation training exercise at in Hohenfels on May 29, 2011. (Photo by Pfc. Stephen Solomon)
New Jersey National Guard NCOs Albanian soldiers depart from a helicopter during a medical evacuation training exercise at in Hohenfels on May 29, 2011. (Photo by Pfc. Stephen Solomon)

“I think we take a lot for granted as NCOs in the U.S. Army,” Holderness said. “But when you deal with some of these countries that come from different systems that are much more class-oriented, you see that, as an NCO, you’ve been developed and trained to take on more responsibility, to have more decision-making power, to be able to be in charge and lead troops. You see that is not always the case in these other cultures, Albania being one example. But they are coming along with that. They benefit tremendously by interacting with us and seeing what we’re capable of doing without always seeking continuous guidance and direction and permission for everything. That benefits them certainly, but it also allows us to reflect on the kind of training and the kind of benefits that we enjoy here.”

Exceeding expectations is the best way to showcase the professionalism of American NCOs, said Sgt. 1st Class Richard St. Pierre, an administration operations NCO with the New Jersey National Guard.

“Over there, the officers are more controlling than we are here,” St. Pierre said. “Here, the officer tells the NCO what to do and knows it’s going to get done. That’s in the Creed: Officers ‘will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine.’ There, I think the mentality is, ‘The NCO’s not going to do it, so I’ll have to do it.’”

NCOs can engender the most respect just by leading by example, Holderness said.

“In any new situation, there’s a lot of judgment going on,” he said. “Their NCOs are watching their officers, and their officers are watching you. It’s all your interactions, your mannerisms, your social interaction. So you have to present yourself as a professional. You gain their respect, and you go from there.”

Once mutual respect is attained, a true partnership develops that is based on genuine cooperation, Holderness said. He saw it happen first-hand during his own deployment with Albanian troops to Afghanistan. He was one of 12 U.S. troops on a small military advisor team led by an Albanian commander and sergeant major.

“It was challenging for me and for the team at first, because you’re thrown together,” he said. “It took a while for the two parts of us, the two halves of us, to mesh and get that single focus, and I think both sides had to compromise. You can’t go into this with the expectation that we’re going to make the Albanians work with our system. That’s not going to happen, and it shouldn’t happen. You have to find some kind of compromise, and that comes through different ways — talking together, eating together, socializing together, as well as performing the mission together.”

 

Bringing it back home

Being able to interact with fellow NCOs as true peers means a lot to Albanian NCOs, Panxha said.

“We had two NCOs go to the NCO academy [in New Jersey], and when they got back, they were very excited. They learned a lot from your NCOs, even how to exchange information and exchange experiences NCO-to-NCO. Whether officially or socially off-duty, they felt equal; they discussed things seriously.

“This is new for us,” Panxha continued. “For you, it may not look so special. But for us, that was very special. When you see them speak of their experiences there, they are very excited. And they spread it among their friends and the NCO corps here through their jobs as instructors at our NCO academy.”

But Albanian NCOs aren’t the only ones developing as professionals, Holderness said. New Jersey Guard members have improved as leaders and trainers through their work with the partnership too.

“As NCOs, we’re sometimes charged with training foreign troops and communicating with foreign troops, even just getting along with foreign troops,” he said. “This partnership really helps that. Our ability to get along with them, to communicate with them and to familiarize ourselves with them, I think, makes us better NCOs when it comes to some of these other missions we have.”

Missions such as training troops stateside, Karcher said.

“When you are sitting in front of a bunch of Albanians or a bunch of Afghans, you are teaching all the way down to the lowest level,” he said. “So you really have to think about every step of that process as far as what you’re trying to train them. You have to look at your slides, you have to watch your acronyms, you have to watch your speech. So I think [working with partner nations] hones our NCOs’ skills to train junior Soldiers when they get back and are sitting in front of a squad of folks who just got out of [Advanced Individual Training].”

Holderness agreed.

“I think this program makes all of us more effective NCOs,” he said. “We’re more effective in our jobs, whether that’s training foreign troops or preparing for our next deployment and dealing with another culture, or training within our own corps. It’s having that flexibility and that sensitivity, that ability to adapt.”

National Guard NCOs building ‘true partnerships’ with foreign armies

By MICHAEL L. LEWIS
NCO Journal

Nearly every NCO who has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan knows what it is like to work with soldiers from another country’s army. But for almost twice as long as the United States military has had troops in those two countries, National Guard NCOs have been building and maintaining enduring relationships with countries the world over through the State Partnership Program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Today, the National Guard of almost every state in the union — plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands — is paired with the military from at least one other country in a strategic partnership designed to provide American combatant commands with forces acutely focused on building security, understanding and cooperation. The bilateral relationships that the SPP helps to forge are invaluable, two combatant commanders told Congress this spring.

Sgt. Terry Selert of the Pennsylvania National Guard looks to a Lithuanian soldier during a joint live-fire exercise in Adazi, Latvia, in June 2012. The exercise was part of Saber Strike 2012, whose participants included more than 2,000 troops from the United States, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Canada, France and the United Kingdom. (Photo by Air Force Capt. Robert Sperling)
Sgt. Terry Selert of the Pennsylvania National Guard looks to a Lithuanian soldier during a joint live-fire exercise in Adazi, Latvia, in June 2012. The exercise was part of Saber Strike 2012, whose participants included more than 2,000 troops from the United States, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Canada, France and the United Kingdom. (Photo by Air Force Capt. Robert Sperling)

“You probably have the co-chairs of the State Partnership Program fan club seated here,” Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, said March 15 before the House Armed Services Committee, speaking for himself and Navy Adm. James Stavridis, then the commander of U.S. European Command.

“It’s a very powerful tool. It is unmatched,” Stavridis testified. “They are, bang for the buck, one of the best things going. Anything that enhances state partnership is money in the bank for the regional combatant commanders.”

The SPP began in the early 1990s as the EUCOM-sponsored Joint Contact Team Program, which was designed to aid the three Baltic countries — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — as they emerged as new democracies after decades of Soviet rule. The three nations were formally teamed with the National Guards of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland, respectively, in 1993, explained Capt. Teresa Ruotolo, the officer in charge of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s SPP with Lithuania.

“As these former Soviet nations were breaking away and trying to stand up democracies, the U.S. wanted to have some people in place to assist them,” she said. “The idea was, as the Russians were pulling out, sending in active-duty [U.S.] Soldiers would have been seen as a provocation by Russia. So they looked to send some reserve component Soldiers instead, since we weren’t viewed as quite as threatening at the time. The perception of the Guard was a little different back then.”

Now, two decades later, the program has reaped a bounty of benefits for troops on both sides, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gundrum, the Pennsylvania National Guard’s state senior enlisted advisor.

“It’s an exceptional program. It allows you to develop relationships, both militarily and culturally, that have longevity to them,” Gundrum said. “The Lithuanian NCO corps is very energetic to learn how we do things, because they base a lot of what their NCOs do on how the U.S. military does it since we have such an outstanding NCO Corps and have proved it’s the backbone of our Army.”

Imparting the unique roles and responsibilities of American noncommissioned officers has been a long-term process, explained 1st Sgt. Jerry Ressler, the NCO in charge of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s pre-mobilization training assistance element. Though Lithuania has been free of Soviet occupation for more than two decades, the Soviet military model has stubbornly persisted in some quarters, he said.

“We know that our NCOs are the backbone of the Army — officers plan, and we execute,” Ressler said. “One thing I observed over there is that they are still trying to implement that. A lot of places, they still have the Soviet model where the officer plans and executes, and the NCO is there mostly as a foot soldier.”

“There is still a bit of that Iron Curtain mentality that has carried over into some of their traditions,” Gundrum said. “You’d think that would be something they’d want to brush to the side, but they don’t because it’s what they grew up with. Now, that may blend itself out over the years to come, but it’s something you have to know ahead of time.”

 

Feedback for deployments

A large part of the Pennsylvania SPP’s mission has been readying Lithuanian soldiers for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. For Ressler and his team, this doesn’t mean evaluating units directly, but rather showing Lithuanian soldiers how the U.S. Army conducts pre-mobilization training so that they can build a model that works for the Lithuanian military.

A Lithuanian first lieutenant practices applying a combat applied tourniquet on Sgt. Joel Rice, an instructor with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, in Pabradė, Lithuania, in June 2011. The training was a part of Amber Hope 2011, which included more than 2,000 participants from nine countries. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols)
A Lithuanian first lieutenant practices applying a combat applied tourniquet on Sgt. Joel Rice, an instructor with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, in Pabradė, Lithuania, in June 2011. The training was a part of Amber Hope 2011, which included more than 2,000 participants from nine countries. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols)

“We brought them in and showed them what our [checkpoints] are that we have to get through, whether that involves individual training or collective training,” Ressler said. “They saw how we tracked our Soldiers, and that was something they were very interested in. When they are performing their tasks for prepping, theirs is more of a broad evaluation of the commander himself and getting feedback from the commander. When we do an event, we get feedback from the individual Soldiers. They saw that and liked that a lot. That’s one of the things they tried to build into their pre-mobilization scenarios, to get the feedback from not just the commander, but their soldiers also.”

Pennsylvania National Guard members, on the other hand, learned that the Lithuanians’ training can be startlingly more lifelike than what U.S. troops are used to, Ressler said.

“Their taskings are more general, but their training was more realistic in some of their scenarios,” he said. “Where we would use compressed air and powder (to simulate an explosion), they would use small blocks of C-4.

“They did a lot of civil disturbance training, and they would bring out water cannons,” Ressler said. “Where we would simulate our protective defensive wall when we’d go into a civil disturbance, they had guys running, jumping and kicking the shields back, and they would have guys with batons hitting back.”

The intensity of the role-players — members of the Lithuania active reserve force — impressed the Pennsylvania Guard’s Soldiers, said Air Force Master Sgt. Ronda Fawber, the NCO in charge of Pennsylvania’s SPP.

“They had people actually injured,” she said. “So they’d go over to the medical tents, get patched back up, and then you’d see them back there in the afternoon again as actors.”

“They knew what the mission was, and they were all motivated to do it,” Ressler added.

 

The only two American troops in Ghar province

The realistic training helped prepare the Lithuanians for their role leading an international provincial reconstruction team in Ghar province, Afghanistan. There, amid the 140 Lithuanian troops and the dozens from other countries, were two Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers embedded to assist with logistics. It was a unique assignment, said 1st Sgt. Ann Shambaugh of A Company, 128th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, Pennsylvania National Guard. She and her chief were the only two American Soldiers in the entire province.

Staff Sgt. Joe Rusnak of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Eastern Army Aviation Training Site instructs Lithuanian troops on manual carries — getting injured troops to safety for medical treatment. The training, in June 2011, was part of Amber Hope 2011 in Pabradė, Lithuania. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols)
Staff Sgt. Joe Rusnak of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s Eastern Army Aviation Training Site instructs Lithuanian troops on manual carries — getting injured troops to safety for medical treatment. The training, in June 2011, was part of Amber Hope 2011 in Pabradė, Lithuania. (Photo by Air Force Staff Sgt. Ted Nichols)

“It was quite challenging, because it wasn’t a training scenario,” Shambaugh said. “We were on a very small [forward operating base] with seven countries, mostly Lithuanians. And besides the Lithuanian sergeant major, I was the only other NCO in that building.

“Class I food was big; rations and water, had to have it,” she said. “MREs, they were like, ‘We don’t need these inspected.’ Yes you do; they expire. Medical was a big thing, too, because they ran a small clinic and they supported the local community there. When kids got sick, they would come into the hospital. So they needed blood on-site and had to learn the proper procedures. But I think they learned and grasped quite a bit about coordinating logistics, not just with food, but with fuel and blood.”

Though they were not her troops, Shambaugh said she showed the same care and concern for their welfare as any NCO would.

“The infantry guys were pretty good. They really did have a good concept of the security of their vehicles and what they personally needed to pack,” she said. “But I would constantly check the guys: ‘You have extra socks? You have MREs? Let me see what’s in your bag.’ They do so appreciate our NCOs’ concern for their safety and their well-being. That meant so much to them.”

Despite their tiny number, the two Pennsylvania Soldiers had an outsized impact, Fawber said.

“At one point, the [U.S.] DoD wanted to pull them out of there, even though there were only two,” Fawber said. “But the Lithuanian minister of defense spoke directly to our secretary of defense and said, if Pennsylvania leaves, we leave. They depended so heavily on [the two Americans’] assistance to navigate the supply system.”

“They used us, and that’s what we were there for,” Shambaugh said. “And toward the end, we could tell when they got it — ‘We don’t need you as much.’ And that was OK.”

Pennsylvania Army and Air National Guard troops were also deployed as part of a police operations mentor and liaison team, or POMLET, sent to help stand up the Afghan National Police.

“It was one of the first truly joint, multinational and ‘blue’ teams out there to deploy,” Ruotolo said.

“But significantly, we fell under the command of the Lithuanians,” Fawber added. “It was one of the first times we had American troops under a foreign commander like that at that level.”

 

Making the partnership enduring

Part of what allowed Pennsylvania National Guard members to work so well under the command of Lithuanians was the mutual trust that has developed during the course of the 20-year partnership, Gundrum said. And having National Guard members as the American stewards of that partnership provides greater stability than using the active component could, he said.

“It’s not like going on a deployment to a foreign country and working with someone from another country for 6 to 8 months, then you leave,” he said. “This is a long-term commitment. Even though we swap positions stateside, there’s a lot of continuity between NCOs because we tend to be around in positions a lot longer than our active-duty counterparts. So when we meet somebody from Lithuania, there’s a good chance that six or seven years later, we’re still around doing something similar. Even though ministers of defense change, presidents change, adjutants general change, sergeants major change, we still have maintained that relationship throughout the years.”

“You have these officers and NCOs grow up together, and they participate in these events, exercises and deployments together, and come up through the ranks together during a 20-year career,” said Ruotolo, whose father-in-law helped set up Pennsylvania’s SPP in the early 1990s. “You don’t get that kind of access anywhere else. It’s because we have that enduring relationship.”

The partnership thrives because of the mutual respect both sides have for each other, Gundrum said.

“I think the biggest thing is once you meet your counterpart, if he’s a sergeant and you’re a sergeant, you’ve got to treat each other as peers,” he said. “You can’t look at him as any less an NCO than you are, because you hold the same rank. Now, maybe the duties and responsibilities are a little different — maybe he has more, maybe he has less — but it doesn’t matter. You have to treat each other as peers, because if you don’t start at that level, you’re never going to have a good relationship.”

“When we talk about going forward, you can see us moving away from a mentoring-and-modeling role and into a true partnering role, co-training,” Fawber said. This means treating each other even more like equals, which Ressler said hasn’t been that hard to do. Indeed, he said his team quickly became impressed with the Lithuanian NCOs’ aptitude.

“Our NCOs understood that these guys are not at the lower end of the intelligence scale,” Ressler said. “They speak four or five languages, and our guys speak only one. They’re highly intelligent, they’re motivated and they’re proactive. I worked with another country’s army in the ‘80s, and they just sat back and watched. These guys didn’t. They were looking to make sure things were right. They were looking for that next step.”

The result is a cooperative bond that enriches both sides, but especially the Soldiers from his state, Gundrum said.

“This partnership positively impacts the Pennsylvania National Guard in that you learn to be a better force when it comes to truly joint and international deployments, such as we’ve had in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “It makes it a whole lot easier for us to understand how to communicate with a foreign country, how different military networks and NCO corps work. It expands the knowledge of the Guard; it gives our Soldiers a bigger view of worldwide operations versus our own little niche in the military.”

“It exposes the Pennsylvania Soldiers to a better understanding of what it truly means to develop a force with few resources, a true understanding of what it means to start from scratch,” Fawber said. “They’ve only been independent from the Soviet Union since 1991; it was 1993 when the last Soviets left. So all of the senior NCOs grew up in a Soviet regime. That’s very enlightening for our Soldiers to learn the struggles their Lithuanian peers have had to endure to get to the same place we are.”

As the partnership enters its third decade, Ruotolo echoed the combatant commanders’ view that SPPs like Pennsylvania’s are both valuable and cost-effective.

“The State Partnership Program is really one of those low-budget, low-footprint, high-impact things. We can really do a lot, and we don’t cost a lot,” she said. “We used to have 300,000 Soldiers in Europe, and now we’re going to have 2,500. When you draw down that significantly, the question is, how do you maintain that level of access to all these different countries? The answer really is the State Partnership Program.”

The next step may be to turn the bilateral program into a trilateral one, Ruotolo said. Dozens of other countries have expressed their interest in being added as SPP partners, she said.

“As one of the first partners, we’re looking to pick up a second country, perhaps in Africa,” she said. “The idea would be helping the Lithuanians by taking them with us to this new country and doing a trilateral exercise, where Lithuania can share their experience of working with us and what they went through.”

“In the long run, I think it’s a great thing for the world in general because it promotes a bit of harmony,” Gundrum said. “You get to watch a country grow — something we did a hundred years ago, now you have the opportunity to help someone else to grow. It makes you feel good that you’re able to help somebody, even though that’s what NCOs do in the Guard all the time. But now, you’re not just helping your own troops, you’re helping the troops of another country get to that level.”

Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill of the Army National Guard contributed to this report.

 

At a glance

The U.S. and foreign partners participating in the National Guard State Partnership Program:

NATIONAL GUARD
NUMBER OF
TROOPS
COUNTRY
NUMBER OF
ACTIVE TROOPS
PARTNERS
SINCE
Alabama 11,000 Romania 73,900 1993
Alaska 1,900 Mongolia 10,000 2003
Arizona 5,200 Kazakhstan 49,000 1993
Arkansas 7,400 Guatemala 15,200 2002
California 16,500 Nigeria 80,000 2006
California 16,500 Ukraine 129,900 1993
Colorado 4,000 Jordan 100,500 2004
Colorado 4,000 Slovenia 7,600 1993
Connecticut 3,600 Uruguay 24,600 2000
Delaware 1,600 Trinidad & Tobago 4,100 2004
District of Columbia 1,300 Jamaica 2,800 1999
Florida 9,900 Guyana 1,100 2003
Florida 9,900 Venezuela 115,000 1998
Florida, Virgin Islands 10,600 Eastern Caribbean** 1,000 2006
Georgia 11,100 Georgia 20,700 1994
Guam & Hawaii 4,200 Philippines 125,000 2000
Hawaii 3,000 Indonesia 302,000 2006
Idaho 3,500 Cambodia 124,300 2009
Illinois 10,000 Poland 100,000 1993
Indiana 12,500 Slovakia 15,800 1994
Iowa 7,500 Kosovo 2,800 2011
Iowa 7,500 Russia* 956,000
Kansas 5,100 Armenia 48,800 2003
Kentucky 7,200 Ecuador 58,500 1996
Louisiana 9,600 Belize 1,100 1996
Louisiana 9,600 Haiti 0 2011
Maine 2,000 Montenegro 3,000 2006
Maryland 4,900 Bosnia & Herzegovina 10,600 2003
Maryland 4,900 Estonia 5,800 1993
Massachusetts 6,300 Paraguay 10,700 2001
Michigan 8,800 Latvia 4,600 1993
Michigan 8,800 Liberia 2,100 2009
Minnesota 11,300 Norway* 24,500 1974
Mississippi 9,700 Bolivia 46,100 1999
Mississippi 9,700 Uzbekistan 67,000 2012
Missouri 9,000 Panama 12,000 1996
Montana 2,800 Kyrgyzstan 10,900 1996
National Guard Bureau 359,000 Israel* 176,500
Nebraska & Texas 23,100 Czech Republic 25,400 1993
New Hampshire 1,800 El Salvador 15,500 2000
New Jersey 6,100 Albania 14,200 1993
New Mexico 3,000 Costa Rica 9,800 2006
New York 10,700 South Africa 62,100 2003
North Carolina 10,300 Botswana 9,000 2008
North Carolina 10,300 Moldova 5,400 1996
North Dakota 3,300 Ghana 15,500 2004
Ohio 11,400 Hungary 22,600 1993
Ohio 11,400 Serbia 28,200 2005
Oklahoma 7,400 Azerbaijan 66,900 2002
Oregon 6,600 Bangladesh 157,100 2008
Oregon 6,600 Vietnam 482,000 2012
Pennsylvania 15,300 Lithuania 10,600 1993
Puerto Rico 7,200 Dominican Republic 24,500 2003
Puerto Rico 7,200 Honduras 12,000 1998
Rhode Island 2,200 Bahamas 900 2005
South Carolina 9,500 Colombia 283,000 2012
South Dakota 3,300 Suriname 1,800 2006
Tennessee 10,600 Bulgaria 31,300 1993
Texas 19,200 Chile 59,100 2008
Texas & Nebraska 23,100 Czech Republic 25,400 1993
Utah 5,600 Morocco 195,800 2003
Vermont 2,800 Macedonia 8,000 1993
Vermont 2,800 Senegal 13,600 2008
Virgin Islands & Florida 10,600 Eastern Caribbean** 1,000 2006
Virginia 7,700 Tajikistan 8,800 2003
Washington 6,000 Thailand 305,900 2002
West Virginia 4,100 Peru 115,000 1996
Wisconsin 7,500 Nicaragua 12,000 2003
Wyoming 1,700 Tunisia 35,800 2004

Note: Figures are approximate as of March 2012.

* These bilateral relationships are maintained outside of the State Partnership Program.

** The Regional Security System includes the island nations of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in the Eastern Caribbean.

NCO Journal graphic by Michael L. Lewis
Sources: National Guard Bureau, International Institute for Strategic Studies