By Sgt. Angela Paraday
121st Public Affairs Detachment
KOTOR, Montenegro (1/4/13) - The United States Army National Guard history can be traced to Dec. 13, 1636, when the Massachusetts General Court declared that all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 were required to join the militia.
Thousands of miles and centuries later on June 3, 2006, Montenegro declared independence from Serbia, making it the world’s youngest country at the time.
Six months later, on Dec. 7, the oldest military institution in America, the National Guard, became formally associated with the youngest country.
Military leadership from Maine and Montenegro met on Dec. 10 to review progress over the last six years and discuss the future of their partnership.
Since 2006, Montenegro has made significant improvements to its overall military doctrine, officer and non-commissioned officer development programs, training plans and equipment.
It has improved its emergency management programs and bettered its posture toward becoming a NATO member and gaining entry to the European Union.
In order to establish partnerships with both the United States and the European Union, one of the first steps the government of Montenegro took after gaining independence was to take part in the National Guard State Partnership Program.
The program aligns states with nations around the world to assist those nations in both civilian and military matters. Maine submitted its application and paired with Montenegro in 2006 to help advise the newly formed country as it began to develop its institutions.
During the last six years, the state partners have accomplished a great deal. Montenegrin Army Lt. Col. Ilija Dakovic said that through different joint activities, the State Partnership Program has helped improve the Montenegrin military capabilities and significantly improved the overall preparedness of the state to respond in natural emergencies.
Army Brig. Gen. James Campbell, Maine’s new adjutant general, made his first formal visit to the country, which resembles Maine in landscape.
Instead of being bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline of Montenegro is dotted by rolling black mountains and the deep blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Campbell said it is customary that the adjutant general visit at least once a year and reach out to the Montenegrin military and civilian leadership to continue to develop their relationship. Together they review training and how they are improving Montenegro’s posture for NATO membership.
Besides the ultimate objective of helping Montenegro achieve NATO membership, Campbell has some additional objectives he is planning to meet in the next year to provide invaluable training to Maine Guard members and Airmen.
“The great thing about this program is it is a two-way street,” he said. “They train in Maine, and we can train here. One of my goals is to be able to have Soldiers and Airmen from Maine National Guard work with foreign military, in an area that is outside the norm. Have them doing things like working with interpreters, with a military that has different traditions than ours, because in my eyes, that is the new normal. We no longer fight wars as a single, separate country, and I don’t see that changing.”
Capt. Christopher Elgee, director of the SPP in Maine, agreed on the importance of this program to the National Guard.
“The benefit for the Maine Soldier, the Maine Airman, is hard to quantify. International exposure is absolutely imperative to anyone who is going to fight in wars today. Our soldiers are preparing to fight in other nations, we don’t go as just the United States, and we go as coalition forces. So this exposure with a foreign military is a wonderful experience for Maine soldiers.”
Campbell sees the SPP as a huge advantage for all states that participate in it. Soldiers are able to gain the experience of working with multinational Soldiers, customs, and equipment variances all while working toward a common goal, without having to be in a deployed environment first
“The SPP is the only way we have right now of building these bilateral exchanges without going on combat deployments,” said Campbell. “Personally, I would rather have our Soldiers and Airmen working through this to gain that experience rather than sending them into harm’s way.”
For the Montenegrins, their primary objective is to achieve NATO membership. Elgee, who lives in Gray, Maine, said that working with the United States helps them develop the model that NATO looks for.
“In a lot of ways we are the NATO standard bearers,” said Elgee. “So when they are trying to become the next nation in NATO, we bring them that experience and knowledge.”
Campbell met with Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic, Montenegrin minister of defense, during his visit. According to Dakovic, who serves as the head of the development department for the Armed Forces of Montenegro, its military has made great progress since being teamed with Maine. They have learned about family support programs and psychological preparation for multinational operations.
“Their nuclear, biological and chemical unit has been improved through a series of joint activities,” said Dakovic. “Furthermore, by performing activities in Maine and Montenegro, we have improved our Soldiers’ ability to operate in extreme climate conditions, while building on our partnership.”
Together, the minster of defense and general specified the next goals for the SPP. Montenegro is very focused on developing training programs for troops deploying to Afghanistan, gaining more experience in civil-military cooperation, especially in emergency management disaster preparedness, and completing more joint training missions.
Short term, they are working on some really beneficial programs. Elgee said he is excited for what is in store for the near future. They are looking at joint deployments with Maine and Montenegrin Soldiers, larger soldier exchanges, as well as possibly bringing the ROTC cadets to Montenegro for summer training. For the cadets, it will be a good opportunity to provide early exposure to key leader engagements.
Campbell came into his position in August and is excited about what the program has to offer. As the relationship between Maine and Montenegro matures, he hopes the partnership helps the state of Maine develop better service members while also helping the Montenegrins grow and develop their programs.
“I hope we can continue this into the foreseeable future,” said Campbell. “This is a great program, not only for Maine, but for all the states and territories that participate in this program. There are over 60 state partnership programs. It’s a great added value for the military to allow the National Guard to do this because it allows the active duty military to do some other things. It increases the strength of the National Guard to be able to do these things at all levels. I think that the skill sets and ability developed, the leader engagement are important to the National Guard. I think that by broadening this program we will continue to develop those skills and continue to be a valuable asset into the future.”