WASHINGTON - After a summer marked by anniversary celebrations, the U.S. Senate formally recognized 30 years of the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program Sept. 27.
In a room crowded with Guard leaders, Senate staff members and foreign counterparts, the Senate National Guard Caucus co-chairs, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Lindsey Graham, presented the National Guard’s top officer with an official copy of Senate Resolution 308 recognizing the historic significance of the 30th anniversary of the founding of the State Partnership Program.
“I can’t thank you enough for your support,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, National Guard Bureau chief, told the senators. “This program would not exist and have the great impact it has globally without the Senate’s support.”
The State Partnership Program began in 1993 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. As they emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, former Soviet states looked to reform their militaries and move away from a communist system toward democracy and civilian control of their armed forces.
The Guard’s legacy as state militias may have appeared less provocative to Russia, and its dual missions to serve as the combat reserve of the Army and Air Force while also postured to respond to disasters at home made it the clear choice to lead these engagements.
The SPP started with 13 former Soviet states, many of which have since joined NATO.
“This program has expanded in ways that have been so beneficial on both sides,” Shaheen said.
During her remarks, Shaheen asked representatives from partner nations to introduce themselves, say where they’re from and who their state partner is.
Latvia’s defense attaché proudly announced: “Major General Andis Dilāns, Latvia, the first ever who signed a State Partnership Program with Michigan.”
While the SPP was born in the Baltics, it now includes 100 nations on every continent but Antarctica, linked with the National Guard of every state, territory and the District of Columbia.
The SPP enables between a quarter to a third of U.S. security cooperation engagements — with just 1% of the security cooperation budget — making it one of the best, most valuable security cooperation programs in the world, Hokanson said.
Hokanson and Guard leaders have said they want to selectively add 30 or so more partner nations in the next decade. Recently, Finland and Sweden have expressed interest in joining the SPP.
Interest from these nations validates the SPP model, Hokanson said, particularly against the backdrop of the current conflict in Ukraine.
“Our partnerships that we’re here to highlight today are just part of the evolution of the National Guard, especially looking at our relationship with Ukraine and not just the importance of it now, but over the past 30 years,” Hokanson said of the California Guard’s SPP pairing with Ukraine — one of the program’s charter associations.
“Our Guardsmen today continue to train Ukrainian soldiers and units in Germany so they can get back into the fight,” he said. “And for all our state partners that border Russia and in difficult regions of the world —as we’ve said from the beginning — partners are partners. We’re here to help each other in every way we can.”
Tangibly, Guardsmen collectively participate in more than 1,000 engagements at home and abroad with foreign counterparts every year. With partner nations in every geographic combatant command, through the SPP, the Guard is a local force with global reach.
Training engagements range from large-scale, multinational, joint exercises to small troop-to-troop subject matter expert exchanges.
Intangibly, lasting relationships are formed as U.S. and foreign troops gain an awareness and appreciation of one another’s culture, homeland and way of life.
“We are bound by a shared commitment to a more stable world, and we must stand together against forces that threaten a free, open, rules-based global order,” Hokanson said. “Freedom and democracy are American values — but we cannot uphold them alone.
“Our National Defense Strategy is clear: Mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships — like the SPP — are an enduring strength,” he said. “And they will be more critical in the years ahead.”