NEWS | July 9, 2015

Slovenia awards medal to Colorado Guardsman for two decades of cooperation

By Maj. Elena O'Bryan National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON - Slovenian Defense Attache Col. Ivan Mikuz awarded Command Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Lawrence a medal for his many contributions to the state partnership between Slovenia and Colorado at the embassy's National Day celebration here June 23.

Just two years after the Republic of Slovenia declared its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, Slovene Armed Forces began a partnership with the Colorado National Guard that continues today and is one of the oldest alliances in the National Guard's State Partnership Program.

The SPP is a low-cost, small-footprint Department of Defense program managed by the National Guard Bureau and executed by the states. The SPP connects a state's National Guard with a partner nation's military to grow an enduring, mutually beneficial relationship. More than one-third of the world's nations have an SPP state partner.

Lawrence, who joined the Colorado Guard in 1985 and is retiring after more than 33 years of military service, has experienced first-hand the value of the 22-year partnership with Slovenia.

Looking back at an alliance that has spanned more than two decades, Lawrence said: "The biggest advancement has been interoperability as it relates to the human factors. The Slovenes have taken input from Colorado and DoD, but Slovenia has retained their own regional partners and come up with their own security model that works for them."

The Adjutant General of the Colorado National Guard, Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, said the partnership between Slovenia and Colorado has created not only operational but also strategic effects.

"The biggest impact showing up right now. . . is that you can count on the Eastern European countries to stand up and be strong partners in NATO," he said.

"Security is a shared responsibility. We are building capacity especially with the Colorado National Guard with whom we deployed to Afghanistan," Mikuz said.

Colorado National Guard and Slovenian Soldiers deployed six times to Afghanistan in Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams (OMLTs) to train and mentor the Afghan National Army.

According to National Guard Bureau historian William B. Boehm, "Critical to the success of their mission is the ability of the OMLT to apply an embedded approach'living, eating, and working side-by-side with the ANA'to develop mutual trust and confidence."

"This kind of method that cultivates shared interests has been established by the very core principles of the SPP in its short history," Boehm wrote.

"With the Colorado National Guard, it's about partnership. It's about friendship - tested in Afghanistan," said Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia Dr. Bozo Cerar.

Mikuz said he recognized Lawrence because he is "a special person - someone who stood up to build our partner capacities. He enhanced the reputation of the Slovenian noncommissioned officer corps."

Mikuz said Lawrence identified critical career courses for Slovenian military personnel to attend in the United States.

Lawrence said that it was natural to want to find training opportunities for Slovenian service members.

"We treat them just like we treat our own Soldiers and Airmen," he said.

Though Slovenia and Colorado are half a world apart, Lawrence watched as social media shrank that distance.

"We didn't have social media 22 years ago. Now Soldiers and Airmen are exchanging Facebook and Twitter accounts," Lawrence said.

"We can make progress so much faster in terms of sharing info back and forth. That rapport is already there so we can get to business quicker. With the rapport comes a level of trust," he said.

Lawrence said he sees another advantage to the National Guard managing the SPP program.

"As a traditional Guardsman, I talk to people in my community about the partnership with Slovenia. The Guard is well suited to this mission by being community-based," he said.