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NEWS | June 8, 2024

After 80th D-Day Commemoration, Hokanson Looks to Future

By Army Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill and Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely, National Guard Bureau

OMAHA BEACH, NORMANDY, France — After honoring the 80th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day invasion and subsequent liberation of Europe, the National Guard’s top general looked forward Friday, focused on sustaining enduring partnerships.

“The best way we can honor the sacrifices made here in Normandy is to ensure we safeguard freedom,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, said after meeting with ANZUS and NATO defense chiefs and senior U.S. military leaders at a conference hosted by Gen. Thierry Burkhard, France’s chief of defense.

Operation Overlord—the Allies’ D-Day invasion of French beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah—is widely considered the most complex and consequential military operation in history. It required years of planning. It took almost 160,000 service members. It cost thousands of lives. Eighty years on, D-Day is remembered for the sacrifices of Allied troops, the multinational effort, and the resolve of Allied leaders.

“Alliances and partnerships made the extraordinary accomplishment that was D-Day possible,” Hokanson said. “It takes a team to preserve freedom. That’s why sustaining alliances and partnerships remains so important today.”

A weeklong tribute—likely one of the last of the annual celebrations to include World War II veterans, many now centenarians—was set against the backdrop of renewed conflict in Europe. With Russia’s most recent war of choice against Ukraine ongoing, world leaders gathered here in Normandy to champion peace, democracy and the international rules-based order.

Like in the first half of the 20th Century, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin said democracies must again rally against subjugation—together.

“Those rules protect us,” the secretary said during his remarks at the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,388 Americans who fell on D-Day and the ensuing operations lie. “Those rights define us. And those responsibilities summon us once more.”

The National Defense Strategy calls mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships America’s greatest global strategic advantage.

Enter the National Guard.

Partnered with 106 nations, the National Guard is at the forefront of global security cooperation.

“Our State Partnership Program is one of the most productive, cost-effective security cooperation programs in the world,” Hokanson said. “Walking on this hallowed ground where men from different nations came together to fight for freedom demonstrates how important it is to have like-minded partners—then and now.”

The Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program started in 1993 as a vehicle to help former Soviet Bloc states emerge from behind the Iron Curtain. It now features partnerships with nations on every continent but Antarctica.

The SPP enables between a quarter and a third of U.S. security cooperation engagements at about 1% of the security cooperation budget. Through the SPP, Guardsmen train with foreign counterparts at home and abroad, building readiness, compatibility and enduring relationships.

Numerous NATO countries are state partners with the Guard, now including Finland, which was formally paired with the Virginia Guard last month. Norway, a founding NATO member, joined last year. Sweden, the newest NATO member, has applied to join the SPP and is undergoing the state pairing process.

Other partnerships are more mature.

California Guardsmen have worked with Ukrainian troops since 1993 under one of the charter SPP affiliations.

However, a key tenet of the State Partnership Program is the access partner nations have to the whole of the Guard.

Today, rotational Guard units are training with Ukrainians in Germany—helping them build readiness and lethality to take back to the frontlines to fight for their country’s sovereignty.

In Tucson, Arizona Air National Guard pilots are training Ukrainians to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft soon to be donated to Kyiv.

“When we train with our partners, we each learn from each other and it makes both of us better,” the CNGB said. “We build relationships that last decades.”

Hokanson laid a wreath at the National Guard Monument built atop a German bunker on Omaha Beach’s Dog Green Sector, where the Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, took heavy losses in the early minutes of June 6, 1944.

“Today, we retain that fighting spirit,” he said. “We stand steadfast with our allies and partners. We continue to stand together for freedom and liberty.”

He cited General Eisenhower’s order of the day launching Operation Overlord: “The free men of the world are marching together towards Victory.”

“More than that, they were marching towards history—their names and courageous deeds echo into eternity,” Hokanson said.

Together.

Since the Second World War, partnerships have been at the core of a collective commitment to peace and security in Europe and beyond, French President Emmanuel Macron said at the international ceremony where he hosted 20 world leaders and World War II veterans to commemorate D-Day.

“As we are tragically reminded that peace is not eternal and that security is not a given, the efforts to bolster our collective defense, deterrence and resilience are required more than ever,” Macron said.

In his remarks at the Normandy American Cemetery commemoration, President Joe Biden called for solidarity to safeguard democracy and freedom.

“What the Allies did together 80 years ago far surpassed anything we could have done on our own,” Biden said. “It was a powerful illustration of how alliances—real alliances—make us stronger—a lesson that I pray we Americans never forget.”

 

 

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