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Home : News : State Partnership Program
NEWS | June 21, 2023

Hokanson: Bilateral Defense Relations with Serbia on Positive Trajectory

By Sgt. 1st Class Zach Sheely, National Guard Bureau

BELGRADE, Serbia – In the wake of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Serbia instituted a moratorium on military drills with other nations.

On June 15, Serbian troops resumed bilateral training with Ohio National Guardsmen and multinational forces in exercise Platinum Wolf, marking the first time the Serbian Armed Forces have drilled with foreign militaries since the pause.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, met with Serbian government and defense leaders June 6-8 as part of a visit to Western Balkan nations partnered with the National Guard to reaffirm the Guard’s commitment to its partnerships in this region.

“We stand ready to work together any way we can,” Hokanson told Gen. Milan Mojsilović, the Serbian Armed Forces chief of general staff. Serbia and the Ohio Guard are paired in the Defense Department National Guard State Partnership Program.

That Serbia is participating in training events again with Ohio Guard counterparts is a welcome step in the right direction, the CNGB said.

“We hope Platinum Wolf is an indication that Serbia will resume a full range of exercises with us and other like-minded partners as soon as possible,” he said.

Platinum Wolf is Serbia’s premier multinational regional peacekeeping exercise at Serbia’s South Base June 15-27.

Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Mussman, the Ohio National Guard’s State Partnership Program director, said 10 countries are participating: Bosnia and Herzegovina; Greece; Hungary; Italy; North Macedonia; Romania; Serbia; Slovenia; the United Kingdom and the United States. The Ohio Guard is the largest visiting force, with about 115 Guardsmen participating.

“This pause [on exercising with foreign partners] is still in force,” Mussman said. “However, the clear training value of Platinum Wolf in preparing to meet international peacekeeping missions led to this exception.

“This exercise is a highlight of our partnership and is an exceptional joint training opportunity for Ohio National Guard military police and security forces members,” he said.

Serbia’s affiliation with the Ohio Guard in the SPP began in 2006. Serbia is one of 25 European nations paired with National Guard elements. The SPP now features partnerships with the National Guard of every U.S. state and territory and foreign nations — now at 100 and counting.

Serbian troops and Ohio Guardsmen have conducted almost 100 engagements focused on cybersecurity, engineering, firefighting, medical best practices and NCO development since 2019.

“Military-to-military [training] is the best part of our cooperation with the U.S.,” Mojsilović told Hokanson.

Hokanson said the partnership runs deeper than people may realize or expect.

“Our cooperation takes many different forms: experience exchanges, exercises, military education and technical training,” the CNGB said.

The SPP began in 1993 as a security cooperation program with three former Soviet states. It has since expanded to include partnerships with nations in every U.S. geographic combatant command area of responsibility.

Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals. It also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.

Serbia maintains military neutrality and is not a NATO member, though it continues political dialogue with NATO on areas of common interest.

Along with the State Partnership Program, Serbia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 2006.

Hokanson said Serbia’s involvement in these programs enhances military cooperation and enables Serbia’s participation in global peacekeeping missions. Serbia also cooperates in various civilian agency efforts like cybersecurity, counterterrorism, climate change and disaster response.

Serbia’s ties with the United States extend further, as the two fought together in both world wars. Yugoslav and American troops kept the peace on the Sinai Peninsula in the 1990s. Later this year, U.S. and Serbian troops will work together again in the Sinai as part of Multinational Force and Observers, or MFO — a multinational peacekeeping mission.

“We’re thrilled that Serbian and American forces will soon be deployed side-by-side in the Sinai as part of the MFO mission,” Hokanson said. “It’s our joint exercises that make this possible. The same goes for Serbia’s exercises with various NATO allies and other partners.”