SKOPJE, Macedonia - Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the adjutant general, Vermont National Guard, met with senior military, civilian, and government leaders in Macedonia earlier this month.
During this intensive visit - his first as adjutant general - Cray discussed strategic initiatives of the State Partnership Program.
The Macedonian-Vermont State Partnership connection goes back more than 21 years.
More than 3,000 Macedonians and Vermonters have shared their expertise in more than 800 events as the partnership has developed.
"Vermont has a special bond with Macedonians. Your soldiers are recognized and trusted as professionals who provide continuity throughout their careers," U.S. Ambassador Paul Wholers stated of the relationship.
Prior to flying to Macedonia, Cray, Command Sgt. Maj. Forest Glodgett, and Lt. Col. Dan Pipes, State Partnership director, met with senior leaders at the United States European Command (EUCOM) in Stuttgart, Germany. As the combatant command for the region, EUCOM recognizes the value of state partnership engagements.
"We coordinate our lines of effort with EUCOM, the country team, the major commands in Vermont and our Macedonian partners," Pipes said. "This ensures that we are working together with meaningful results."
Once in Macedonia, discussions revolved around several recurring themes: regional interoperability, domestic response preparedness, and working with all facets of government were threads woven through most conversations. Cray has a vision of incorporating these mutual interests in engagements with Senegal, Vermont's other partner nation.
"A tri-lateral event to determine how Senegal and Macedonia will work together has many intriguing possibilities," Cray said.
In a day that illustrated the aggressive schedule of the week, Cray and Wohlers met with Talat Xhaferi, the minister of defense, Lt. Gen. Gorancho Koteski, the chief of defense, and finally with Gjorgje Ivanov, the president of Macedonia. All leaders noted their excitement regarding the possibility of engaging with peers in West Africa.
Later that day, Cray and Glodgett joined Koteski, at Illenden Barracks in Skopje to award two medals to each of the 79 Macedonian soldiers who co-deployed with Vermont's 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan in 2010.
Glodgett planned and participated in this ceremony with his Macedonian counterparts, noting that, "These soldiers earned the Meritorious Unit Citation and Vermont Commendation medals. I am proud to have served with them in Afghanistan."
During the ceremony, Cray commented that, "We share a deep bond of mutual respect that has grown from our experience in combat, but we also know each other's families. The personal nature of our relationship is only built over time."
The day concluded with a gathering of senior military, embassy and political personnel at the ambassador's residence.