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NEWS | Dec. 14, 2006

Montenegro partners with Maine National Guard

By Sgt. Jim Greenhill National Guard Bureau

PODGORICA, Montenegro - The ripples from the first muster of Dec. 13, 1636, have reached the shores of the Adriatic Sea, where the world’s youngest country on Dec. 7 joined America’s oldest military service in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

“This is an historic first step initiating a strong bilateral defense relationship between the United States and Montenegro,” LTG H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at the formal announcement of the partnership in the nation’s capital, Podgorica, once named Titograd.

“I want to express my gratitude to the United States of America for its support,” Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said during a meeting with Blum. “I’m very glad about the cooperation between the state of Maine and the state of Montenegro. It will further strengthen the cooperation as a whole between Montenegro and the USA.”

“This is the first, very historic step, on establishing mutual partnership relations in terms of defense between the United States and Montenegro,” said Lt. Col. Gen. Jovan Lakcevic, Montenegro’s chief of defense. “As the states of Montenegro and Maine are very similar when it comes to their landscapes, the same goes for the National Guard of Maine and the Montenegrin military. We look alike. We have many similar Army units. We have a lot of potential for military cooperation.”

The first muster of three militia regiments in the Massachusetts Bay Colony 370 years ago marked the birth of the National Guard. Montenegro declared independence on June 3 and quickly partnered with the National Guard.

The State Partnership Program (SPP) pairs 55 countries with the National Guard in U.S. states and territories. Montenegro is partnered with Maine.

Other Balkan countries also are members of the SPP, and Blum said during his Montenegrin visit that he hopes a Balkan SPP Regional Workshop, tentatively scheduled for May 2007, will bring together these nation-states and their National Guard state partners.

“The State Partnership Program has acted as a catalyst for stability in regions where stability has been sought for centuries and was never achieved and now is possible,” Blum said.

Blum, Maj. Gen. John Libby, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, and other National Guard officials visited Montenegro during the first week of December to recognize the country’s SPP membership.

“I’m struck by the similarities between Maine and Montenegro – its culture, its people, certainly the geography and the economy,” Libby said.

Montenegro was independent until 1918 when it was united with Serbia. It became a constituent republic of Yugoslavia in 1945. After that nation’s collapse in 1992, 12 years after the death of Josip Broz Tito, the dictator credited with holding the nation together, Montenegro partnered with Serbia.

The former Yugoslavia weathered a disastrous civil war through the 1990s. Montenegro managed to avoid the worst of the conflict though the country endured strategic NATO air strikes because of its Serbian union.

On May 21, more than 86 percent of the electorate turned out for a referendum and more than 55 percent embraced independence from the union with Serbia.

“The leadership of Montenegro is incredibly of one mind,” Blum said. “They truly want to be part of the Euro-Atlantic community. They absolutely are desirous of being members of NATO, and they see the State Partnership Program being what they consider a fast-track for that.”

Montenegro’s SPP membership and the visit by Blum and Libby dominated evening news broadcasts and newspaper front pages.

Among other initiatives, the SPP offers:

  • Transformation. The Maine National Guard will advise the Montegrin Armed Forces as it transitions from a conscript to an all-volunteer force, reduces its numbers and updates 30-year-old equipment.
  • Officer development. Members of the Montenegrin military may attend officer candidate school in Maine.
  • Noncommissioned officer development. Maine’s NCOs may get opportunities to teach in Montenegro which is looking to develop an NCO academy.
  • Language: The SPP will help Montenegrin officers and enlisted soldiers develop English language skills.
  • Emergency management. Montenegro may work with the Maine National Guard and emergency managers to enhance emergency response for civil emergencies and search and rescue operations. Montenegro is vulnerable to floods and earthquakes. Maine will model the National Guard’s relationship with civilian law enforcement agencies for Montenegro, which is developing similar relationships from scratch.
  • Coastal defense. Maine may assist Montenegro in enhancing its coastal defenses.
  • Civilian-to-civilian partnerships. Student exchanges are among possible civilian programs.

Our force structure in Maine parallels almost identically the force structure here in Montenegro and will make the military-to-military piece very easy for us,” Libby said.

“We’re very similar states in many respects and both of us have significant coastlines, significant industries and a wide spectrum of possible cooperation and partnership,” Libby told Montenegro’sVijesti newspaper. In one of numerous stories, the newspaper outlined the National Guard’s history, calling it a critical part of America’s Armed Forces, and compared the National Guard to the national civil defense system once used by Yugoslavia.

Affiliating with the SPP is one of a series of steps the fledgling government has taken to strengthen the partnership between Montenegro and both the United States and the European Union after 16 years of isolation.

Other steps include joining the Partnership For Peace (PFP), a program designed to help NATO aspirants ramp up for full membership. Montenegro also became the 192nd member of the United Nations on June 28 and is seen as a promising candidate for European Union membership.

“My presence here today is … a clear manifestation of U.S. support for Montenegrin efforts towards integration with the Euro-Atlantic community,” Blum said.

Blum was the first senior U.S. official to visit the country since Montenegro was invited to become a PFP member during a Nov. 29 NATO summit in Riga, Latvia. However, Blum has advocated SPP support for the Balkan nations since commanding the Multinational Division North in Bosnia from September 2001 to April 2002. Montenegro’s SPP membership is the latest step.

Potential benefits from the SPP go beyond specific programs to improved cultural understanding.

“We understand clearly in the National Guard that we’re subordinate to civilian authorities and that we support civilian authorities,” Libby said. “That’s a notion that will serve these people and this nation particularly well.”

During the visit to formalize Montenegro’s SPP membership, Blum and Libby met with senior civilian and military Montenegrin officials. They observed Special Forces and Special Anti-Terrorists Unit demonstrations. They toured historic sites, including King Nikola’s palace in the old royal capital of Cetinje and the Ostrog Monastery, where they met with church leaders. They sailed on a yacht once owned by Tito to the historic walled city of Kotor, a UNESCO Heritage Site. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Picture a cross between Maine and Colorado and you have an idea of this country of spectacular limestone mountains and a coastline dotted with ancient walled cities of stone buildings with Spanish-style red-tile roofs, part of the setting for Casino Royale, the latest James Bond movie.

It was Libby’s first visit. “I was particularly impressed by the warmth of the people [and] by the enthusiasm that these people show for their newfound freedom,” he said.

“Uvijek spreman, uvijek tamo gdje treba” is the Montenegrin equivalent of the National Guard slogan “always ready, always there.” The literal translation is “always ready, always where you’re needed.”

“As General Blum loves to say, ‘When you mobilize the Guard, you mobilize America,’ “ Libby said. “We represent the people on the street. Ours is a nation of compassion, a nation that sets about to set other men and women free. We see an opportunity in this country to provide them a road ahead in terms of their economy, in terms of their military and civilian relationships. The men and women of the Maine National Guard look forward to this opportunity.”

The Association of the United States Army contributed to this report.


BREAKOUT INFO:

Montenegro's timeline to independence

  • May 31: Citizens choose independence in referendum monitored by European Union.
  • June 3: Independence formally declared.
  • June 12: Montenegrin independence recognized by the United States.
  • June 28: Joins United Nations.
  • July 13: National holiday celebrates independence.
  • Nov. 29: Invited to join Partnership for Peace, a stepping stone to full NATO membership.
  • Dec. 7: Joins National Guard State Partnership Program.

About Montenegro

  • Population: 630,000
  • Land area: 5,019 square miles (similar to Connecticut)
  • Capital: Podgorica
  • Government: President, Parliament of deputies and prime minister
  • Industry: Electricity generation, steel, aluminum, coal mining, forestry, wood processing, textiles, tobacco, tourism.
  • President: Filip Vujanovic
  • Chief of Defense: Lt. Col. Gen. Jovan Lakcevic
  • Foreign Minister: Milan Rocen
  • Minister of Defense: Boro Vucinic
  • Director of Police: Veselin Veljovic