SINAI PENINSULA, Egypt – Men and women who have been to war stand watch here in the hope others won’t have to.
Some members of the Multinational Force and Observers – including some of the Hawaii National Guard troops currently contributing to the mission – have served in war zones.
But the MFO mission is about avoiding conflict, by supporting a peace that has held for more than 40 years, since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979.
“You are filling a vital role,” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told troops with the 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, Hawaii National Guard, during a visit to the region this week. “The National Guard stands ready to support the MFO whenever we are needed: We love the mission, and our troops are highly motivated to deploy to exciting and important missions.”
Since 1981, the MFO has observed, verified and reported potential violations of the Egyptian–Israeli Treaty of Peace and facilitated military dialog between the signatories to build trust, enhance transparency and ensure an enduring peace. An international force, it is currently led by Australian army Maj. Gen. Simon Stuart. A dozen nations provide the troops and money to sustain the MFO.
The mission is conducted in the challenging, dynamic environment of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula – a mountainous, thinly populated desert about the size of West Virginia, with Israel and the Gaza Strip on its eastern border.
The Hawaii National Guard is currently the MFO’s largest single force provider. Over the years, the Guard has frequently provided troops. More than 500 troops have come to the MFO from National Guard State Partnership Program nations.
“That so many of our SPP partners have transitioned from being security consumers to security providers shows how the SPP builds partner capacity,” Lengyel said. “Our partnership activities provide the Defense Department with a highly cost-effective means of strengthening alliances and attracting new partners.”
The SPP joins the National Guard in the states or territories with foreign countries for cooperative security training. More than one-third of the world’s nations – 83 of them – now have such partnerships.
During his visit, Lengyel met with Egyptian military leaders, including Maj. Gen. Mohammed Abbas Helmy, Egyptian Air Force commander.
“Our enduring strategic defense relationship with Egypt is one of our nation’s most valued partnerships,” Lengyel said.
Topics discussed with Egyptian leaders included border security, a challenge shared by both countries and a mission that both the Egyptian military and the National Guard have boots-on-the-ground and eyes-in-the-sky experience.
Throughout his visit, Lengyel saw the National Guard woven into the fabric of Joint Force overseas operations in obvious ways – like the several hundred Hawaii troops assigned to the MFO – and in more subtle ways.
Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Groover is the United States’ senior defense official assigned to Egypt, based at the embassy in Cairo. He leads a team of officers and noncommissioned officers representing each of the services who supervise the details of the longstanding military relationship between the USA and Egypt.
Groover’s background? He’s a deployed member of the Florida National Guard.
“It never ceases to amaze me how much contribution Guard members are making in every kind of partnership at every level, whether local, state, federal or – as in this case – international,” Lengyel said. “Guard members should take great pride in the roles we fill at home and around the world.”
Lengyel’s wife, Sally, met with troops to discuss family readiness and spouse support
“Our service members can’t do what they do without the support of their families, communities and employers,” Sally Lengyel said. “We must ensure we are, in turn, supporting families, especially when their loved ones are deployed.”
How the pre-mobilization process can be improved to better prepare family members, and access to medical services were among topics Sally Lengyel discussed with troops.
About a dozen troops also took part in a re-enlistment ceremony led by Gen. Lengyel.
“You are hard to find and hard to keep, and your service is deeply appreciated by our nation,” Lengyel said.
Egypt – one of the birthplaces of civilization and now home to 97 million people with a median age of 24.7 – holds a special place in Lengyel’s heart: He counts his time as the United States’ senior defense official in the country as one of his favorite non-flying assignments.
“It was invaluable in increasing my understanding of complex geopolitical issues and the practical realities on the ground,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I strongly encourage diversity of assignments, to strengthen and broaden our emerging leaders.”
Examples of such assignments available in the National Guard include serving as bilateral affairs officers in State Partnership Program nations.
“Building partnerships is one of the National Guard’s most important missions and directly supports our nation’s National Defense Strategy,” Lengyel said. “Trust cannot be surged in time of crisis – every day, at every level, we must build confidence and reliance with all our partners.”
Lengyel is the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He ensures the 453,000 Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and to provide combat forces to the Army and the Air Force.
“We are an operational reserve of the world’s best fighting force,” Lengyel said. “The National Guard is an essential part of our Total Force, providing ready forces and strategic depth.”