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NEWS | Feb. 4, 2010

Guard chief talks of expanding partnership program

By Sgt. 1st Class Roy Henry Georgia National Guard

ATLANTA, Ga., - For the National Guard State Partnership Program to maintain its important role in promoting this country's long-term mutual security cooperation with its allies around the world, the program must expand, the Guard's top officer said today.

"State Partnership Programs cannot be static," Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said at an SPP workshop here. "They must be creative, integrated and responsive to combatant commanders and U.S. ambassadorial priorities in the field."

The first partnerships were developed in 1993 with former Soviet bloc countries, such as the one between the state of Georgia and the country of Georgia. Today, SPP includes about 62 partnerships in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

This year, SPP will target some new regions of the world, including South America and the Pacific Rim, McKinley said.

When the program was first introduced, developing SPPs was relatively easy, he said. Each state was paired up a partner with similar goals.

Now McKinley said he must convince the adjutants general of those states that have partnership to take on a second or even a third partnership country.

McKinley said SPP has been "living fairly meagerly" on a $10 million budget. However, some in the Department of Defense believe it should be a $50 million program.

"We have to prove our program's value to our national leaders constantly, or it won't be funded," he said.

For that reason, SPP must continually and carefully balance its "very scarce resources."

Those who operate the SPPs and do the business of the combatant commands in the theaters where SPPs exist, McKinley said, must make sure the dollars they have are used wisely and that they're getting the most out of the money they spend.

In his long-range plan for the program, McKinley said he looks at where the program is going, what it's going to take to get there and what it's really trying to achieve when it gets where it's going.

"We have to have the vision to engage those countries that can, or may be, influenced by those looking to exert control over them," he said. "Through state partnership we can reach out and assist those nations in averting that influence."

As he continues advocating the importance of SPP's role to senior leadership, McKinley said he describes the program one of the Guard's "crown jewels."

He attributed the program's success to the workshop attendees, because they are the ones closest to the vision of what State Partnership is and should be.

"Not all the brain power is in Washington," he said. "It's here, in this room today, and it's the kind that can recommend new initiatives with which to keep state partnership relative and active."