WASHINGTON – The National Guard reaches out to other nations through partnerships, stands ready for the warfight, and provides security for the homeland, the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau said Jan. 12.
“The National Guard exists to fight and win our nation’s wars,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Marc Sasseville told a meeting of newly minted defense attachés. “Our ability to respond to almost any disaster here at home is because we are manned, trained, and equipped to fight, as the combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force.”
The Defense Intelligence Agency’s defense attachés represent the nation on defense and military topics with foreign governments. Defense attachés, who can be uniformed service members or civilians, serve overseas in U.S. embassies.
The National Security Strategy highlights competition with the People’s Republic of China and managing the acute threat posed by Russia.
“This is a radical change from the focus and strategy of the past 20 years,” Sasseville told the defense attachés. “Many of our service members have spent their entire careers training and fighting in a counterinsurgency environment. Now the landscape is different. The threat is different. And it will require a different approach.”
The Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program has grown to 87 partnerships with 95 nations since 1993.
“Perhaps the greatest, most imperative element of our global security is our relationships with our allies and partners,” Sasseville said. “That’s why the National Guard’s State Partnership Program is so important. The [SPP] is a unique security cooperation agreement that formally pairs a state’s National Guard with a partner nation.”
The SPP celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer. The program began with partnerships with three former Soviet nations, Latvia with the Michigan National Guard; Estonia with the Maryland National Guard; and Lithuania with the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“The National Guard is the second largest organization in the American military, behind only the regular Army,” Sasseville said. “Today, we make up 20% of the entire U.S. military. One in five service members is in the National Guard. That’s 20% of the Joint Force with only 5% of the budget.”
The Guard is unique because Soldiers and Airmen have civilian jobs they juggle, along with family responsibilities. Today, more than 22,100 Guardsmen are serving overseas.
Sasseville shared his own experience serving in Turkey. “Of my 36 years in uniform, some of the best were from March of 2014 until June of 2016, when my wife Karin and I were assigned to Ankara. I was extremely fortunate to serve as the senior defense official and defense attaché.”
Wishing the defense attachés the best in their new assignments, Sasseville stressed: “One day we will be called together to keep the peace, to confront aggression, to stand up for the things we hold dear. And because of the relationships we’ve built over the course of our careers, we will do so with friends at our side.
“Relationships are living things,” he added. “They are built on trust, respect, and common interests. They must be nurtured, cherished, and strengthened for the years to come. They are our best long-term investment in mutual and global security, and we must honor them accordingly.”