If he had his way, the chief of the National Guard Bureau said there would be more resources available to allow Guard units involved in the State Partnership Program to participate in more of the exercises that build interoperability between the United States and foreign partner nations.
"The one thing I would really focus on is ensuring that we resource more exercises," Army Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson said during a discussion today with The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
The National Guard's State Partnership Program is a security cooperation program managed by the National Guard Bureau that links a state's National Guard with the military of a partner nation. The relationship allows both the Guard unit and the partner nation's military to further their respective defense goals. Today, 87 such partnerships with 93 countries exist.
"As we look further in the future, any chance we can to send units like platoons, companies or battalions to train with our allies and partners, it just ... helps us become more interoperable," Hokanson said. "It gives us more opportunity to work together to understand tactically, how you work together ... if we ever get into a situation where we're on a battlefield together, and so that would be it — as much training as I could, training funds, so we could participate in more of that."
The National Guard's State Partnership Program doesn't just benefit the partner nations that participate — it benefits greatly the U.S. servicemen and women who participate as well, Hokanson said.
"The one thing it does for the National Guard is it allows our soldiers and airmen to really visit a lot of other countries, to look at the environment that they operate in, and to really see, in many cases, the same problems — just approached from a different angle," Hokanson said. "We learn a lot in those countries and in those interactions, that we bring back to make our organizations better, and I like to think vice versa."
In Europe now, Hokanson said, it was initially a surprise to some the skills the Ukrainian army is displaying on the battlefield. But it was something the National Guard expected.
"When events started to occur, some folks were surprised by how Ukraine performed," he said. "And everyone within the National Guard says it's not a surprise to us at all, because they've been training them, and training with them, for almost 29 years."
As early as 1993, he said, the California National Guard has partnered with the Ukrainian military to conduct training, Hokanson said. Since then, they've conducted over 1,000 engagements together.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Hokanson said, the U.S. stood up the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, which was initially filled by an active-duty unit. But since 2016, National Guard units have been participating there in the training as well. Most recently, he said, it was the Florida National Guard that was in Ukraine training with the Ukrainian military.
Now, he said, it's evident that the training between the U.S. and Ukrainian military has paid off.
"What you're seeing now is some of the areas that they're being very successful in ... obviously completely attributable to the fact that they're standing up and they're fighting for their nation and their sovereignty," he said. "But within that, I think, we're also seeing some of that training has been very beneficial to them as well."