Magazine article National Defense

Guard Rediscovers Diplomatic Role

Magazine article National Defense

Guard Rediscovers Diplomatic Role

Article excerpt

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 fears," said Batzorig Bayar, defense attache 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 Iraq.

A word map hanging across from Kalber's office desk is pegged with black pros 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 :an 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. Kalber added.

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. …

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