SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA – After 16 months of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland National Guard can rejuvenate its nearly 18-year, enduring partnership with the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the State Partnership Program.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, adjutant general for Maryland, visited BiH for the first time June 22, with the mission of making up for lost time with a treasured ally.
Gowen traveled to Sarajevo to meet with Sifet Podžić, BiH minister of defense, AFBiH Lt. Gen. Senad Mašović, chief of defense, and Eric Nelson, U.S. ambassador to BiH. Together, they observed Coordination 2021, a civil-military emergency preparedness exercise that highlighted the importance of the SPP. Gowen also discussed his priorities in securing future training opportunities together.
During the exercise’s distinguished visitor day, facilitated by Selmo Cikotić, BiH minister of security, Gowen witnessed the value of interagency coordination and support to civil authorities during an earthquake scenario.
Nelson said Coordination 2021 emphasizes the importance of cooperation between military and civilian groups and the non-governmental sector during crises.
The MDNG’s experience in crisis response, specifically with the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters, can be used to help develop BiH’s civilian structure capabilities and the AFBiH’s role in crises, said Nelson.
Responding to natural disasters, such as floods or forest fires, is a key mission for the AFBiH and supporting civil authorities.
“Here we are … watching a civil-military exercise,” Gowen said. “It’s training like this that allows us to thrive in this partnership together.”
During his visit to BiH, Gowen was accompanied by Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson, senior enlisted leader of the MDNG, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rob Wille, Maryland Army National Guard G3 Training Division chief. Wilson and Wille visited the AFBiH Training and Doctrine facility in Travnik, BiH, to engage with the AFBiH TRADOC commander and staff. They planned training opportunities the MDNG can facilitate for AFBiH noncommissioned and commissioned officers.
“One of the major projects I’d like to take on is potentially creating a way for our AFBiH counterparts to attend courses with the MDARNG’s 70th Regimental Training Institute,” said Wille. “It’s something the MDARNG could likely facilitate, but it requires the right sources of funding to make it possible.”
Wille sees the potential for progressive SPP opportunities for the MDNG and AFBiH.
Normally, the MDNG and AFBiH would complete about 50 training events in a typical fiscal year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic placed a hold on many in-person SPP activities for more than a year. Some SPP events were still conducted virtually, such as an initiative between MDNG and AFBiH to enhance strategic communications, resources and media operations.
Many AFBiH public affairs professionals still use camera equipment provided by the MDNG years ago and can attend the public affairs course for international students at the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Maryland.
For the first time last month, BiH hosted a Defender series exercise known as Immediate Response 21. The exercise served as a milestone for the AFBiH, with the most amount of U.S. military personnel in BiH since 2005.
Before traveling to BiH, Gowen stopped in Germany to visit U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Jarrard, deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Europe and Africa, and with training and exercise leaders to discuss training opportunities for MDNG and SPP counterparts. He emphasized his intent to stand with AFBiH counterparts in USAREUR-AF exercises such as the Defender series.
“Participation in the Defender exercise series with our AFBiH counterparts just makes good sense,” Gowen said. “[Not only will it] enhance the relationship under the State Partnership Program, but it’ll also enable us to spend our 20th year together in 2023 to reach common goals and objectives and to achieve a shared vision like never before. We can help one another reach maximum multinational interoperability, taking security cooperation to the next level.”
Achieving multinational interoperability is one of the most significant training objectives in the European operational environment. BiH is a member of the U.S.–Adriatic Charter, or A5, an association of the U.S. and Western Balkan states. A5 promotes regional cooperation and assists with achieving NATO accession. Historically, the MDNG has facilitated training opportunities with BiH, assisting their efforts to become a NATO member.
Mašović talked about the need to focus more on civil-military activities and reflected on the many accomplishments of the SPP, mentioning the AFBiH and MDNG 115th Military Police Battalion's shared deployment to Afghanistan in 2013.
“The MDNG intends to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our AFBiH partners at future Defender exercises,” Gowen said. “We intend to get back to work, side-by-side, training together in the near future, supporting one another, growing together, and achieving anything imaginable.”