BUCHAREST, Romania – The chief of the National Guard Bureau completed a seven-day, three-nation troop visit and operational assessment with a visit to this South East European nation on Nov. 27.
Army Gen. Frank Grass' visit to Romania with other National Guard leaders followed stops in Kosovo, Europe's newest sovereign and independent democracy, and in Afghanistan, where he spent Thanksgiving Day with troops.
Kosovo is nurturing a four-year partnership with the Iowa National Guard and transforming its security forces. It remains an emerging security partner with the National Guard and the U.S. Afghanistan is pursuing stability after decades of war. Meanwhile, Romania maintains a mature, 23-year-partnership with the Alabama National Guard, has transformed its armed forces and joined NATO, and is a stable long-standing ally and security provider.
It wasn't so much what Romanians said during General Grass' visit about their enduring National Guard State Partnership Program relationship with Alabama that showed the value they place on it. It was what they did.
From the moment General Grass; Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Mitchell Brush, his senior enlisted advisor; Army Maj. Gen. Perry Smith, Alabama's adjutant general, and other leaders set foot on Romanian soil, their hosts demonstrated they are committed partners, dedicated to NATO and eager to further interoperability with allied forces.
His Excellency Klaus Werner Iohannis, the nation's president, welcomed the visitors to his home, equivalent to the White House. A review of troops awaited at the Ministry of Defence before meetings with Minister of National Defence Mihnea Motoc; Lt. Gen. Nicolae-Ionel Ciucă, chief of general staff; and Command Sgt. Maj. Florea Sas, senior enlisted leader.
At the Ministry of Defence, General Grass paused to study the faces of Romanian soldiers killed in multiple operations with the United States stretching back more than two decades and to read some of the plaques explaining where they died.
Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kosovo. Iraq. Afghanistan.
"Romania doesn't just talk, they act," Grass said. "They have sacrificed blood fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with us around the world. They also have invested people and equipment in peacekeeping operations worldwide. They are extraordinarily good partners with us in war and in peace."
General Ciucă hosted a dinner at the National Military Officers Club, insisting every member of the General Grass' party join him, where they were entertained by the Romanian Army's stringed orchestra and vocalists.
America's European allies seek reassurance – but General Grass said his meetings with Romanian defense leaders and troops left him the one reassured.
"We are very fortunate to have security partners like Romania," he said. "In today's complex strategic environment, we face a host of challenges ranging from emerging conventional threats and terrorism to threats in the cyber realm. During a crisis we don't need to be exchanging business cards – we need the kind of deep mutual understanding that only comes with the investment of time and trust the Alabama National Guard and Romania have made."
Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general, U.S. Army Europe, joined the visiting delegation when General Grass spent time with Texas National Guard members assigned to Romania's MK Air Base in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve and other missions. Atlantic Resolve is America's reassurance to NATO allies concerned about multiple emerging threats.
The National Guard State Partnership Program pairs Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen in the states, territories and District of Columbia with their counterparts in foreign countries. It started with the collapse of the Soviet Union, focusing on the former Eastern Bloc and members of the Warsaw Pact. It has grown far beyond the expectations of its founders to embrace 76 partner nations worldwide, and it continues to grow.
Romania and Alabama were one of the first.
"We train together," Maj. Gen. Smith said. "We learn from each other. We trade best practices on missions ranging from domestic responses to natural disasters in the homeland to the warfight overseas.
"My Soldiers and Airmen place great value on our partnership with Romania," Smith added. "The work we do together makes both of us better. The opportunities our partnership creates for our service members are unparalleled, ranging from increased military professionalism to a far greater understanding of world affairs, which is critical at all ranks in today's strategic environment.
The leader of 13,800 Soldiers and Airmen said the SPP has also helped with retention.
"People tell me they re-enlisted because of the growth they experienced through SPP exchanges," Smith said. "It's an amazing, economical program that boosts America's partnership capacity and grows our service members."
Chief Brush emerged from a meeting with Command Sgt. Maj. Sas, his Romanian counterpart, struck by Romania's transformation from a Soviet-era conscript force to a modern, agile, all-volunteer professional military.
"They have invested in their service members, in training, in equipment, in professionalism," Brush said. "They are our peers, and we learn every bit as much from them as they learn from us. We are fortunate to have this partnership."
Maj. Gen. Smith agreed.
"This is what happens when two parties invest 23 years building a relationship," he observed. "It's unique to the National Guard, because we can build a rapport over decades that you simply can't build by rotating people through on three-year assignments. We don't just know who each other is: we know each other's children, we've watched them grow up, we've followed each other's careers, been guests in each other's homes."
The National Guard's primary focus, Grass stated, is its mission triad: Fighting America's wars, guarding the homeland, and building partnerships.
"People ask me how our mission triad is related," Grass explained. "In reality, it's indivisible. Our warfighting skills enable us to effectively guard the homeland and respond to natural and man-made disasters. In the modern world you can't prosecute the warfight or guard the homeland effectively without strong partnerships at the local, state, national and international level."