PRAGUE, Czech Republic – When Daryl Bohac came here in 1998, he didn’t just help advance a young partnership between the Czech Republic and the Nebraska National Guard – he returned to his ancestral roots.
Bohac was an Air Force major then. He’s now a major general – Nebraska’s adjutant general. And the Czech Republic is preparing to celebrate next year’s 30th anniversary of the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
Since this former Soviet Bloc, Central European nation became a founding member of the SPP July 14, 1993, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has joined NATO, the European Union, and other international organizations, alliances and partnerships.
“From the first time I came here in ’98 to today, the transformation of the Czech Armed Forces has been amazing,” Bohac said during a visit with Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, last week.
The SPP started with a phone call from the U.S. Supreme Allied Commander in Europe with NATO to the chief of the National Guard Bureau, asking the Guard to help the former Warsaw Pact’s emerging democracies and their armed forces. A generation later, the program’s security cooperation partnerships extend to 93 nations on four continents – and in all six U.S. geographic combatant commands.
The California National Guard’s enduring SPP security cooperation relationship with Ukraine, including ongoing substantial support to Kyiv in the wake of Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion, highlights the value of the SPP.
“What you’re seeing play out today is the value of these relationships, and the NATO alliance really coming together more strongly than perhaps was anticipated by any of us,” Bohac said.
The Czech Republic is unique in the SPP: It has had security cooperation agreements with both Nebraska and the Texas National Guard since it joined the program, giving the nation’s armed forces access to capabilities unique to each state.
Nebraska is the state with the highest percentage of residents who claim Czech heritage – 5.5 percent. Texas has the highest raw number of Americans with Czech roots, but – with a much larger population – a lower percentage.
Maj. Gen. Bohac’s grandfather, Jan Bohac, emigrated at the turn of the 20th century, entering the United States through Ellis Island and becoming an American.
Bohac’s father grew up speaking Czech at home, and he continued to speak it with his brothers and sisters as an adult. The family was active in Nebraska’s Czech cultural clubs.
“I didn’t learn the language,” Bohac said. “My father said, ‘Where are you going to learn? When are you going to use it? Who are you going to talk to?’ … Not foreseeing this.”
Bohac’s 1998 visit was his first. His team shared America’s enlisted training models with the Czech Armed Forces so the Republic could develop a professional noncommissioned officer corps, one of the requirements to fulfill the nation’s NATO aspiration.
He also met his relatives. “We still stay in contact today. The professional connections are enhanced by my personal connections, so I’m really grateful for that.”
Personal relationships are the SPP’s “secret sauce.”
“It’s the continuity,” Bohac said. “It’s the year-after-year engagement between the National Guard members and the host nation members. Developing those depths of relationships over time is what makes the difference.”
Most Nebraska Guardsmen, Bohac included, take part in regular exchanges, either hosting members of the Czech Armed Forces in Nebraska or coming here as guests.
But one Nebraska officer lives here, attached to the U.S. Embassy on a 2- or 3-year full-time assignment as the state’s bilateral affairs officer (BAO), a model followed in many other SPP partnerships.
“I look for somebody who understands the value of relationships and working the details and supporting defense cooperation,” Bohac said. Czech ancestry is not required, and language courses are now offered to BAOs.
Army Maj. Josh Metcalf is currently that officer.
“I was an infantry officer by trade,” Metcalf said. Being a BAO has given him a strategic view at an international level, a broadening experience he might otherwise not have had.
Being the BAO means answering to the Nebraska and Texas chains of command, U.S. European Command, the State Department, the embassy’s defense attaché, and the National Guard Bureau – which manages the SPP, leaving execution to the states – all of which have equity in his work.
“It’s an excellent growth opportunity for promising mid-career officers,” Hokanson said. “Our BAOs strengthen the National Guard’s capacity to conduct cooperative security, a priority in our national defense strategy.”
The SPP helps partners improve interoperability, the ability of military groups and their equipment to operate effectively with each other. Other benefits for participating Soldiers and Airmen include training and increased geopolitical understanding.
“In our homeland in America, it’s no longer a sanctuary,” Bohac said. “For a long time, all of our planning strategy said, ‘We have oceans that separate us, and good neighbors to the north and south – allies.’ But we know that’s not sufficient anymore.
“If we want to defend forward, then we have to have allies and partners. We’re engaged in global security so that we don’t have to worry as much about the threats to the homeland – that’s the value to America.”