News | June 12, 2021

Almost 30 years on, Poland’s partnership with the National Guard thrives

By Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill National Guard Bureau

Deployed National Guard troops got a visit from their most senior general here today.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief, National Guard Bureau, also met with General Commander of the Branches of the Polish Armed Forces, Gen. Jaroslaw Mika.

“Improving the National Guard’s warfighting readiness – including through overseas deployments like this one – and bolstering solidarity and unity with our nation’s allies and partners are among my highest priorities,” Hokanson said.

The general visited with members of the Florida National Guard’s Regional Support Group and the Michigan National Guard’s 1225th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion who are deployed here in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States’ reassurance to European allies after Russian actions in Ukraine in 2014. The Guard members were also taking part in one of the largest international exercises, Defender Europe 21.

Hokanson also talked with National Guard troops from other states, augmenting the mission. About 28,000 troops from 26 nations conduct exercises in 12 countries during Defender Europe. Michigan’s 1225th CSSB is providing logistics mission command and sustainment support operations, both in Poland and throughout the European Command area of responsibility.

“Supporting operations like these help the National Guard maintain readiness for our primary mission, the warfight,” Hokanson said.

He was accompanied by SEA Tony Whitehead, the National Guard’s most senior enlisted member, who advises the CNGB on enlisted matters. Troop interactions included a town hall style meeting where the two discussed with troops issues related to Hokanson’s priorities for the Guard: people, readiness, modernization and reform.

“The knowledge deployed troops share with us from their immediate experience accomplishing the mission is the most valuable information we get to help us plan for the future,” Whitehead said. “You can’t beat firsthand insights from the troops who have their boots on the ground.”

Poland is paired with the Illinois National Guard in the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program. The relationship started in July 1993, one of the longest and strongest in the SPP.

“Poland’s security cooperation relationship with Illinois is a textbook example of how the SPP benefits the National Guard, the Joint Force and our partners,” Hokanson said.

From 2003 through 2020, Poland deployed more than 35,000 troops to Afghanistan or Iraq in support of coalition forces. Illinois National Guard members deployed with them on every single one of those two dozen rotations.

The 28-year relationship continues to thrive: Illinois Guard members have planned 45 security cooperation exchanges this fiscal year alone. The exchanges are wide-ranging, including aircraft maintenance, exercises, medical, cyber and numerous other skills and capabilities.

“It is very much a two-way partnership, based on shared interests and mutual respect, benefitting both nations,” Hokanson said.

Just one example: Poland sent a 15-person specialized COVID-19 Military Medical Support Team to Chicago in April 2020 to help Illinois with the state’s pandemic response.

“When nations partner with the National Guard in one of the states, territories, or District of Columbia, they gain access to the capabilities of the entire Guard across the 54,” Hokanson said.

Among topics, Hokanson and Mika discussed were other National Guard states stepping up to support Illinois’ relationship by providing specialized training in capabilities in which those states excel.

State Partnership Program engagements are executed through U.S. geographic combatant commanders’ theater strategies and are aligned with U.S. Embassy country strategies. The SPP helps the U.S. strengthen strategic partnerships and build partnership capacity, enhance readiness and deepen interoperability.

A unique aspect of the SPP is the long-term relationships built between Guard members and their foreign counterparts; relationships maintained as troops on both sides rise through the ranks, building a high degree of trust over time.

Poland is a valued member of both NATO and the European Union. The nation meets or exceeds its defense spending commitments. Last year, a new Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement formalized increased defense cooperation between the U.S. and Poland.

Poland achieved NATO membership in 1999 in part thanks to the Illinois National Guard helping Polish forces achieve alliance standards.