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Celebrating 30 years of the National Guard’s international impact

23-005 | July 13, 2023

In this op-ed, published in Breaking Defense, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discusses the global impact of the Guard and its State Partnership Program.


Not long ago, I stood at a military training camp in the German countryside shaking hands with Ukrainian Soldiers preparing to go home and fight Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion. Their courage profoundly inspired and moved me.

As chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I traveled to Germany to meet those Ukrainian patriots, and just as importantly, to meet with their trainers — members of the US National Guard. For more than a year, National Guard members from Florida, New York and Arkansas have leveraged the Guard’s State Partnership Program to support the administration’s policy of providing Ukraine with key skills and resources needed to defend against Russian aggression.

The nexus of the National Guard’s international impact is the State Partnership Program. which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month. The program began in 1993 when the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania partnered with the National Guards of Michigan, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, respectively. Today, the program boasts 88 partnerships with 100 nations and extends beyond military professionalism and interoperability to things like disaster response, higher education, healthcare and good governance.

Next week, leaders from around the globe, members of Congress, ambassadors, defense ministers and chiefs of defense from all our partner nations, along with US military leaders, will gather in Washington, DC to celebrate the continued impact and vitality of the State Partnership Program at its 30th anniversary commemoration.

Many Americans may be surprised the National Guard is involved in international partnerships. Best known for domestic missions like helping communities through wildfires and storms, Guardsmen have for decades strengthened national security through these long-term trust relationships that have proven key to enabling the National Defense Strategy. Arguably, Ukraine’s ability to limit Russia’s February 2022 invasion came due in part to the training and assistance they received from their 30-year partnership with the California National Guard.

The power of state partnerships lies with the National Guard’s unique ability to build sustained and enduring human relationships. Guardsmen and members of partner militaries often become as close as family. Many of the once-junior military members have, over the years, risen to lead their military and civilian governments, all with a predisposition toward mutual understanding and respect with the United States.

The Guard’s global impact is more dynamic than ever. This Spring alone, I represented the National Guard in Europe at the Munich Security Conference and at the African Chiefs of Defense Conference. I also met with leaders in Finland and Norway as part of more than a dozen face-to-face meetings with key allies and partners. In mid-March, I traveled to the Middle East to solidify a State Partnership agreement between Oman and the state of Arizona. In May, I flew to the Pacific to consult with partners and fine-tune the National Guard’s growing mission there, and just last month, I met with leaders in Serbia and Albania.

In our own hemisphere, we have active partnerships with nations like Colombia. In many African nations, state partnerships are building security capacity and countering the negative influence of international bad actors. In 2022, Guardsmen participated in more than 160 events with partner nations on the continent. In the Indo-Pacific, 13 State Partnership Program events include the Washington National Guard recently hosting a cybersecurity conference with Thailand.

The US National Defense Strategy calls alliances and partnerships our “greatest global strategic advantage.” The National Guard is uniquely suited to build lasting international bonds that contribute immeasurably to international safety and security. With 1% of the US security cooperation budget, the State Partnership Program is responsible for 20% to 30% of international engagements.

Building effective decades-long and meaningful international relationships for a tiny fraction of U.S. expenditures, the National Guard’s global impact continues to deliver impressive results for our national security.


Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson serves as the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau and is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the most senior officer in the National Guard, the nation’s second largest military component, he ensures the readiness of the more than 430,000 Soldiers and Airmen who make up the combat reserve of the Army and the Air Force. Hokanson advises the President, Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Council on issues involving the non-federalized National Guard and serves as the statutory channel of communications between the Department of Defense and the 54 states, territories, and the District of Columbia on all matters pertaining to the National Guard.