BANGOR, Maine – Maine Air National Guard Maj. Carolyn Richley and her family have been in Montenegro for more than a year as part of the Department of Defense State Partnership Program.
Every military-to-military engagement (exercises, events, visits, etc.) involving the U.S. military and the Montenegrin military goes through Richley and her team, allowing a smooth flow of operations and continuity for future missions.
Keeping the relationship going is a good way to describe what Richley does in her new role. Information technologies, cyber warfare, infantry tactics, policy building, and community outreach are just some of the topics Richley tackles, bridging the geographical gap between the two nations and strengthening a friendship set for years to come.
"I'm extremely proud of all the work Maine has done to help with Montenegrin projects just in the short time I've been here," said Richley, who started her military career as an active-duty lieutenant in the U.S. Army. "It's really awesome to see all the interesting things we're doing as Mainers here in Montenegro."
Richley and her team pride themselves on their expert exchanges, learning how the Montenegrin military conducts its operations and surrounding herself with subject matter experts to help teach the host nation how the U.S. military operates under the same circumstances.
"Sometimes we just exchange expertise, bounce ideas off each other to get the best of both worlds. It's really kind of fun," Richley said.
The Maine–Montenegro partnership started 15 years ago. Accomplishments include management of large-scale disasters, building educational and economic relations, university interaction and student and faculty exchanges, developing co-deployment opportunities, and moving to collective-level training, using MEANG KC-135 for airlift.
All of these are experiences that Richley and those who came before her have been able to witness — one of the best aspects about being in the Maine Air National Guard. Having no prior experience as a bilateral affairs officer before moving to Montenegro, Richley entered a sink or swim environment.
"I know resilience is kind of a buzzword right now. I really think that's important. Part of that is just not being scared to experience small failures. But that's part of the process; they help us grow and become better as Airmen and wingmen, too," Richley said.
Asked if she wanted to pass on anything to her fellow MAINEiacs, Richley mentioned the importance of stepping outside comfort zones, constant self-improvement and professional development.
"We want to share the love. We want to spread the word on how awesome Montenegro is, how awesome Maine is and how great of a partnership we have together," Richley said.
Richley is an engineer by trade, so it only made sense that when she joined the 101st Air Refueling Wing, she became a member in the civil engineer unit.
"One of our biggest questions was what does everyday normal family life look like here (in Montenegro)," Richley said in a telephone interview. "We were up for an adventure, and this has definitely been one."