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Chief of the National Guard Bureau's Prepared Remarks for the State Partnership Program's 30th Anniversary

23-003 | July 17, 2023

Gen. Daniel Hokanson's, chief of the National Guard Bureau, prepared remarks celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the State Partnership Program delivered at an event on July 17 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor, Md.

Good morning!  It’s an extraordinary honor to be here with all of you.  Thank you for traveling from around the world to be here.

Let’s please have one more round of applause for Dr. Sherwood-Randall.  Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today, and thank you for being part of our 30th anniversary celebration. 

Today, we celebrate thirty years of the State Partnership Program.  But that’s hardly the most remarkable number. 

That number would be our 88 partnerships and 100 nations—five of which we’ve added this year.  In fact, I want to congratulate Samoa and the Nevada National Guard, who had their signing ceremony just a few days ago, and Cyprus and New Jersey, who will hold their U.S. signing ceremony this Friday.

But while those are the most important numbers—and the reason we’re here today—there are a few other numbers that I think speak to the significance of this occasion. 

Like 90: that’s how many countries we have represented here today.

Or nearly 50—that’s how many ambassadors and ministers and chiefs of defense we have in attendance.

And how about 54—the states, territories, and DC who make up our National Guard, and the remarkable Soldiers and Airmen who lead and serve in their communities. 

Or eight and a half—that’s how many miles we are from Capitol Hill, and where members of Congress continually advocate for our National Guardsmen and the State Partnership Program.

Or 9,460—that’s how many miles our guests from Malaysia flew to be part of our 30th anniversary celebration.  That’s about 1,182 trips from here to Capitol Hill. 

I have one final number for you: one.  And that’s because the State Partnership Program enables between a quarter and a third of our Nation’s security cooperation engagements with just one percent of the security cooperation budget. 

But as impressive as the numbers may be, they only tell a small part of the SPP story.  The real stories, the best stories, are in this room—because the SPP is about people.  It’s about mutual relationships.  It’s about finding commonality across cultures and languages.  It’s about partnerships.  It’s about cooperation that endures for 30 years—and counting. 

You can find examples in every Combatant Command—and one of the greatest honors of my role as Chief is having the opportunity to witness these examples and see the impact of this program all around the world. 

In May, I visited Hanoi, Vietnam, where the Oregon National Guard was training with a delegation from the Vietnam National Committee for Incident, Disaster Response and Search and Rescue.  They were holding a disaster management exercise.  This would allow both partners to improve their ability to respond to natural disasters and communicate effectively with key agencies. 

This visit was especially significant to me as an Oregon Guardsman.  Since the partnership between Vietnam and the Oregon National Guard began more than a decade ago, I’ve seen how the relationship between our Guardsmen and our Vietnamese partners has grown. 

I remember visiting Vietnam as Oregon’s Adjutant General in 2014, just two years after the partnership began—and I am proud to see how it’s evolved since. 

Watching our forces work together and learn from each other during the disaster management exercise, I was struck by the opportunities and challenges of our shared world.  For example, both Oregon and Vietnam face similar natural disasters: tsunamis, landslides, floods, and wildfires.  We can learn a lot from each other, exchanging best practices so we can minimize loss and suffering during a crisis.

But our partnerships are equally strong in the Central Command area of responsibility.  One example is the partnership between the Mississippi National Guard and Uzbekistan, who celebrated a decade as partners last year. 

Over the course of their partnership, Uzbekistan and Mississippi have conducted extensive Special Forces and Airborne training exercises.  But they’ve also had agricultural exchanges about cotton production. 

In 2018, Mississippi hosted Uzbekistan senators to discuss trade and industry partnerships.  The following year, representatives from Mississippi—including the Governor, agriculture commissioner, and Adjutant General—traveled to Uzbekistan, where they discussed opportunities for trade, education, and economic development. 

And in 2021, I had the honor of witnessing the jump of the first joint airborne operation between Uzbekistan soldiers and the Mississippi National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group. 

I also had the opportunity to witness our Guardsmen and our partners in action at the African Lion training exercise in 2021. 

It was my first overseas travel as Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and I was excited by the opportunity to see our National Guardsmen and service members from nine partner nations training side by side. 

One of these nations, Morocco—the host of the event—has been partnered with the Utah National Guard for nearly two decades. 

Utah and Morocco cooperate on combined arms capabilities, including special forces, attack helicopters, artillery, and fighter jet refueling interoperability.  Other exchanges include humanitarian demining, emergency medicine, disaster response, and noncommissioned officer development. 

Less than a year into their partnership, Morocco was struck by a devastating earthquake.  Less than 72 hours later, the Utah National Guard delivered emergency relief supplies. 

Morocco has shown staunch support for the security cooperation relationship with the Utah National Guard, which makes our populations more secure.  This partnership has promoted lasting friendships and deepened understanding and cultural appreciation between the people of the United States and Morocco.

That’s because these partnerships are an exchange—where we work together, learn from each other, and strengthen each other.  Last December, I traveled to Ecuador as part of the South American Defense Conference.  Ecuador is partnered with the Kentucky National Guard—a partnership that’s been reinvigorated by shared challenges in recent years.   

Large-scale disasters are an ongoing concern for both Ecuador and Kentucky.  While the Kentucky National Guard responded to historic flooding last year, they also train to respond to earthquakes, given their proximity to the New Madrid fault line.  And in their training, they look to their state partner, Ecuador. 

In 2016, a major earthquake devastated the Manta region of Ecuador, killing nearly 700 people and injuring hundreds of thousands more.  In the aftermath, more than 13,500 military and police personnel responded to the crisis.  Here, Kentucky and Ecuador can learn from each other. 

But they don’t just trade disaster response expertise.  In June of last year, senior NCO instructors from Kentucky’s 238th Regional Training Institute met with senior NCO instructors from Ecuador’s Army and Air Force about how to best train their service members. 

It was the first all-enlisted subject matter expert exchange. 

We may be separated by language or distance, but we are united in what we seek—a peaceful, stable world.  Safe countries and safe citizens.  And together, we step closer to making these things possible.  

There are things that challenge all of us.  They come in the form of climate change, energy crises, global pandemics, and malevolent actors.  These challenges aren’t confined to a single country, a single region, or a single hemisphere. 

Both directly and indirectly, they impact all of us.  They are our collective problem—and addressing and overcoming them is our collective responsibility.

In 1993, when the SPP began, the first three partner countries were Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia—Baltic nations that knew the brutality of Soviet rule.  I visited all three in July of last year. 

In Estonia, which is partnered with Maryland, I visited a cyber defense center; Estonia has become an international leader in cyber defense after their nation was crippled by a Russian cyber-attack in 2007.  

In Latvia, which is partnered with Michigan, I visited a multination NATO division headquarters. 

On my last day, in Lithuania, which is partnered with Pennsylvania, I visited the Genocide and Resistance Research Center.  It’s in a building that housed the Gestapo during World War II, and the KGB during the Soviet era. 

Within its walls, countless Lithuanians were held, tortured, and killed. 

In those countries, I heard the words: “This is our war.”  I heard, “Ukrainians are defending our values.”  I heard, “A Russian tank destroyed in Ukraine won’t come here.” And I heard “We would rather die than go back to Russian domination.”  

Our partners know the stakes of defending democracy.  They know the value of sovereignty and independence. 

They know the importance of alliances, the power of trust, the strength of cooperation—and the consequences of isolation and complacency. 

The united outcry against Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine—and the unified response to it - demonstrates once again the importance of enduring partnerships. 

By working together, pooling our resources, and learning from each other, we enhance readiness and interoperability.  We deepen enduring friendships and further understanding, and we invest in our shared future.

That’s what makes the State Partnership Program one of the best, most valuable security cooperation programs in the world.

We’ve seen the impact of these partnerships—

The impact on our Soldiers and Airmen who gain a better understanding of the strategic environment in which we operate. 

The impact on our allies and partners, who stand with us in pursuit of peace, stability, and security. 

The impact on the entirety of governments, when military engagements unlock new civil potential.

The impact on our careers, as our National Guards and our partners create trusting relationships that grow and endure. 

The impact on our militaries, as our shared training makes us stronger and more interoperable. 

And the impact on our competitors, who recognize the significance of our commitment to our friends. 

There are so many benefits to our cooperation—stronger diplomatic relations, greater prosperity, advancements in science and technology, improved resilience in the face of adversity, and a stable, more peaceful world for the generations to come. 

Our 2022 National Defense Strategy is clear: Mutually-beneficial alliances and partnerships—like the SPP—are an enduring strength.  And they will be more critical in the years ahead.

Over the next two days, we’ll look back at the creation, and evolution, of the State Partnership Program, and chart a course for its future.

We’ll hear expert analysis on what’s working, and what we can do better. 

We’ll look at the security environment—where the only constant is change—and explore how we can solve shared challenges. 

We’ll build on our shared history and strengthen our enduring connections. 

And we’ll celebrate the people and the partnerships that make us Always Ready, Always There. 

We have a lot to cover across 2 days, 30 years, 88 partnerships, and 100 nations—so let’s get going, and let’s keep going—together.   

Here’s to 30 years of the State Partnership Program, here’s to its future, and here’s to all of you who have made this possible. 

Thank you.