GARMISCH-PARTENKIRCHEN, Germany - You can't surge a relationship.
That theme was stressed by foreign and United States participants at the U.S. European Command Security Seminar at the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies here last week.
"The National Guard State Partnership Program is only going to be more important to EUCOM," Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, combatant commander, told participants. "Some of these relationships are over 20 years old. It is that enduring capability: the fact that we have officers who have grown up together, fought together - these guys have gone with us to Afghanistan, with their paired states - that's the most key part."
Air Force Maj. Gen. Randy Kee, Breedlove's director of policy, strategy, partnering and capabilities, called the SPP a critical part of USEUCOM's theater engagement and integral to the combatant command's campaign plan - sentiments similar to those expressed by commanders of other combatant commands that receive support from the worldwide program.
"Every day, the SPP has great impact in the theater," Kee said. "We can't match ... the longevity and the close relationships that you have with your partners. All that we can do is enable it."
These sentiments were echoed by foreign partners.
Albanian armed forces Maj. Gen. Jeronin Bazo, Albania's chief of defense, cited a June gathering of defense leaders from five Balkan nations - Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro - and their SPP adjutant generals.
"Bringing together all the allies, making them better understand each other, ... means that even reassurance measures will be more effective, because we'll all talk the same language, and we'll use the same capacities, the same capabilities and, also, we'll be mentally more interoperable," Bazo said.
Breedlove observed, "You just can't surge relationships."
That's why, 21 years ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff tasked the National Guard to figure out how to build trusting relationships with the countries of the former Soviet Bloc.
"From that beginning in Latvia, Lithuanian and Estonia, we now have enduring and productive security ties with 74 countries in every combatant command worldwide," said Army Gen. Frank Grass, the 27th chief of the National Guard Bureau.
"Considering that the SPP is a global program, we've spent very little money on this effort," he said, "and the results have vastly outweighed our financial investment." Among numerous examples:
- In response to current USEUCOM security assistance priorities, Michigan and Pennsylvania sent National Guard Stryker platoons on short notice last month to their respective partners, the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. The National Guard was supporting Exercise Saber Strike and helping America reassure its allies.
- Fifteen partner nations have co-deployed with their National Guard partners to Iraq and Afghanistan, providing thousands of troops across 79 deployments. Military leaders say co-deployments in particular have greatly increased interoperability among the United States and partners and allies.
- The adjutant general of Maryland has been personally engaged with Estonia since 1994 and with Maryland's second partner, Bosnia and Herzegovina, since 2004. Estonian pilots have flown Maryland National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation missions in Afghanistan. And, in 2012, Bosnia and Herzegovina - not long ago solely a recipient of security assistance - became a security provider by embedding 26 military police in a Maryland National Guard battalion deployed to the International Security Assistance Force.
"State Guard units have done what they were tasked by the Joint Staff to do," Grass said. "As a result, America now has a very robust and proven model of security assistance that can be leveraged at the strategic level."
Foreign partners, National Guard participants and USEUCOM staff meeting here this week all agreed that the SPP has come of age - and at precisely the moment when the United States and its allies are focusing more on innovative and lightweight engagement tools.
"This past week, I was with Gen. Breedlove at the EUCOM Security Seminar and then for the follow-on National Guard State Partnership Program Conference, which included our adjutant generals who are partnered with European countries," Grass said. "Our primary objective was to examine lessons learned and consider how we might take the SPP to a new level."
One program participant described what the National Guard does as "relationship-based security cooperation."
Grass observed that this phrase accurately describes a useful and innovative way to leverage the deep personal ties senior National Guard officers and enlisted have established, while bundling these into an enabling framework that improves the impact of security programs from all of the services.
"A key takeaway for me is that we can leverage these deep and trusting ties to reassure, strengthen and motivate a very large group of foreign friends and allies across every combatant command," Grass said. "The SPP is no longer a prototype: We're ready to do more."
In the past several months, four different combatant commanders have asked the National Guard to do more with the SPP in their respective commands.
"Stepping up to these requests can be accomplished with only a few additional dollars and perhaps a few regulatory and policy adjustments," Grass said. "This is useful to all the services - we want all the services to leverage the trusting ties the adjutant generals have built."
Since the SPP was born in the ashes of the Soviet Bloc in 1993, the National Guard in the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia has built enduring partnerships with more than one-third of the world's nations, in every combatant command, and on every continent except Antarctica at a remarkably low annual cost.
During fiscal constraints that prompt defense leaders to seek alternatives to permanently stationing forces overseas, Breedlove said the SPP can contribute significantly by providing rotational forces. And he noted that the SPP has motivated financially constrained partner nations to contemplate building their own forces modeled on the National Guard.
"The SPP has from the start been a joint program, executed by the National Guard and fully nested in the combatant commanders' theater engagement strategies," Grass said. "Everything we do in the State Partnership Program is to support the combatant commander and also support his component commanders."
Grass said the roots of SPP successes like these lie in the longevity of individual relationships among service members that is unique to the National Guard.
"The men and women of the National Guard, when they join the Guard in their state, most of them are going to stay in that state for years, and they're going to bring that longstanding relationship that nobody else can match. Not only do you have a military-to-military cooperation, you have individuals that get to know each other's families, year after year, and that's what makes it all work."
The SPP was envisioned as a means to encourage military respect for civilian leadership, human rights and a defensive rather that offensive posture. It has also become an enabler for partner nations to eventually join NATO and/or the European Union. And SPP partner countries have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with troops from partner states in combat.
"From recent events in Europe, one of the things we've learned is that this State Partnership Program can reassure our partners," Grass said. "We were able to accelerate some of the exercises we already had scheduled for Europe, working with European Command, making sure that we were supporting Gen. Breedlove's program, but also meeting what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted us to do, to help reassure those longstanding partners."
The ongoing reassurance of which Grass spoke has a name: Operation Atlantic Resolve is demonstrating the United States' continued commitment to the security of its NATO allies and partners through a series of actions designed to promote peace and stability in the region. More than two decades of robust partnerships built through the SPP are contributing to that total force effort.
The National Guard has three primary missions: Contributing to the warfight, protecting the homeland and building domestic and overseas partnerships, Grass said.
"The stronger those partnerships get," he observed, "the better we get at each of our three National Guard mission sets. It is the stable structure of the National Guard units that makes them uniquely qualified to keep the same personnel on the relationship-building task year after year - in many cases, for a decade or longer. We want to use that unique strength to further enable the work of our colleagues from all the services."