WASHINGTON - The National Guard builds enduring global partnerships and is proven on the battlefield, combatant commanders told Congress here Wednesday.
Two of the combatant commanders also said they would like to see more National Guard State Partnership Program relationships in their areas of responsibility.
"We have eight states that are over in [the National Guard] State Partnership Program," Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commander, U.S. Africa Command, told members of the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the 2015 defense budget.
"They perform a great role in building relationships, as well as building capacity of our partners," Rodriguez said. "We have just expanded North Dakota from one country to three, and we're also putting more requests in to get a couple more State Partnership Programs. So they have been a long-term benefit to us in Africa."
USAFRICOM - unlike the two other combatant commands whose commanders also testified Wednesday - has a relatively low number of dedicated assigned forces.
Three combatant commanders repeatedly referred to the need to build partnership capacity and enable partners in Wednesday's budget hearing.
The SPP is in its 21st year successfully building long-lasting relationships that today include 67 unique security partnerships involving 73 nations, or one-third of the world's nations.
The SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense - a state's National Guard - with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
USAFRICOM's partnerships: California and Nigeria; Michigan and Liberia; New York and South Africa; North Carolina and Botswana; North Dakota and Benin, Ghana and Togo; Utah and Morocco; Vermont and Senegal; and Wyoming and Tunisia.
"They provide a very important role," said Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander, U.S. Pacific Command. "They bring some capabilities and capacities that are important to the [Area of Responsibility.] We're very appreciative of them. We have seven State Partnership Programs in my AOR. There [are] areas that we'd like to grow those in."
The SPP evolved from a 1991 U.S. European Command decision to set up the Joint Contact Team Program in the Baltic Region with reserve component Soldiers and Airmen.
A subsequent National Guard Bureau proposal paired U.S. states with three nations emerging from the former Soviet Bloc and the SPP was born, becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.
USPACOM's partnerships: Alaska and Mongolia; Guam, Hawaii and the Philippines; Hawaii and Indonesia; Idaho and Cambodia; Oregon and Bangladesh and Vietnam; and Washington and Thailand.
U.S. Central Command also has five State Partnership Program relationships within the AOR - but its commander focused on the National Guard's support to the warfight in his testimony.
"The support that's been provided in Afghanistan has been a tremendous help throughout," Army Gen. Lloyd Austin told Congress. "They have contributed in a meaningful way."
USCENTCOM's state partnerships: Arizona and Kazakhstan; Colorado and Jordan; Mississippi and Uzbekistan; Montana and the Kyrgyz Republic; and Virginia and Tajikistan.
The low-cost SPP is administered by the National Guard Bureau, guided by State Department foreign policy goals and executed by the state adjutants general in support of combatant commanders' and U.S. chiefs of mission's security cooperation objectives and Defense Department policy goals.
In his testimony Wednesday, Austin mentioned the importance of leveraging other sources of power - such as diplomatic, informational and economic - as well as military power. "The military is an instrument of power, but it's only one of many," he said.
Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals. But the SPP also facilitates broader interagency engagements, thereby spanning military, governmental, economic and social realms.
According to National Guard Bureau officials:
The SPP also provides Guard members an important training platform to meet service training requirements. Through training and exercises, Guard members work with partner militaries to strengthen shared defenses.
They also have deployed together to support real-world combat missions: In the last 10 years, 28 SPP partner countries have deployed forces to Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Typically, Guard Soldiers and Airmen spend the majority of their careers in the same wing or unit, enabling them to develop long-term relationships with their SPP partners.
This low-cost, small footprint program leverages funding from other DoD programs (such as reserve component annual training and humanitarian assistance) to deliver a significant return on investment by broadening the pool of security partners who are willing and able to maintain global security. Most of the earliest SPP partner countries in Europe have gone on to become U.S. allies in NATO, and many of them credit the SPP and their National Guard state partners with helping to make that possible.