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Wisconsin Guard, Papua New Guinea begin state partnership

By Capt. Joe Trovato | Wisconsin National Guard | July 20, 2020

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MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin National Guard was selected to begin a new state partnership with Papua New Guinea as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

The Wisconsin National Guard maintains an existing state partnership with Nicaragua, which began in 2003.

The State Partnership Program links individual states with armed forces of partner nations around the world to forge lasting cooperation, friendship, and mutually beneficial relationships.

The State Partnership Program (SPP) began more than 25 years ago and now includes partnerships with more than 80 nations. The SPP evolved from a 1991 U.S. European Command decision to set up the Joint Contact Team Program in the Baltic Region with Reserve Soldiers and Airmen. A subsequent National Guard Bureau proposal paired U.S. states with three nations emerging from the former Soviet Bloc and the SPP was born, becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool.

The Department of Defense program is administered by the National Guard Bureau, with the concurrence of the State Department, and executed by the state adjutants general in support of combatant commander and U.S. Chief of Mission security cooperation objectives and DOD policy goals.

Through the program, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres. States work with countries on a variety of levels via exchanges, shared knowledge and resources.

Lt. Col. Derrek Schultheiss, SPP director for the Wisconsin National Guard, said Papua New Guinea has special meaning to the Wisconsin National Guard.

“As we were developing the application packet, we put a heavy emphasis on our unique history with Papua New Guinea and the 32nd Infantry Division during the Second World War,” he said. “With this new partnership, we begin a new chapter in the story between Wisconsin and Papua New Guinea.”

During the war, the Wisconsin National Guard’s famous 32nd “Red Arrow” Division earned accolades as it fought multiple brutal campaigns through Japanese-occupied New Guinea. The troops spent 654 days in combat – more than any other division in the war. Red Arrow operations in New Guinea from 1942 to 1944 were highlighted by the liberation of Buna, the amphibious landing at Saidor, and the Battle of Madang. The Red Arrow – then made up of Soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin – suffered thousands of casualties in New Guinea before operations concluded successfully and moved to the Philippines and ultimately mainland Japan shortly after the war.

Four Red Arrow Soldiers – three from Wisconsin – earned the Medal of Honor posthumously for their actions in New Guinea. That legacy continues today in the form of the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

“Our Wisconsin National Guard is a tremendously professional force, and we look forward to many years of engagement with Papua New Guinea and the lessons and experiences we can exchange to benefit both their military forces and our own National Guard troops,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general. “I applaud the many Soldiers and Airmen in the organization who worked diligently through the application process to bring this partnership to fruition, and I’m excited for this new mutually beneficial partnership with Papua New Guinea.”

The Wisconsin National Guard will continue its state partnership with Nicaragua. The partners have conducted many mutually beneficial military-to-military engagements over the years focusing mainly on disaster preparedness and response.

The Wisconsin National Guard consists of nearly 10,000 Soldiers and Airmen and represents a force with significant international and domestic experience. More than 24,000 Wisconsin Guard members have deployed overseas since September 11, 2001. They have trained, fought and advised in 28 countries since 2000. Simultaneously, the Wisconsin National Guard continues to answer the state’s call during wildfires, floods, hurricanes, civil disturbances and other emergencies.