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News | March 14, 2015

Combatant commanders praise National Guard contributions

By Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON - The contributions to joint force efforts made by the National Guard State Partnership Program and the New York National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing were among those lauded by combatant commanders testifying here this week.

"The partnership program is very, very high impact and very, very low cost," Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander, U.S. Southern Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Kelly and Navy Adm. Bill Gortney, commander, U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, testified about the posture of their commands, an annual update to legislators typically given each spring.

The 22-year-old National Guard State Partnership Program includes 68 unique security partnerships involving 74 nations.

"One element of our balanced strategy is partnerships at the local, state, federal and international level," said Army Gen. Frank Grass, the chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Our State Partnership Program - linking a state's, territory's or D.C.'s National Guard with the armed forces of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship - is an outstandingly successful example of the wisdom of partnerships."

The SPP itself relies on partnerships for its execution: The National Guard Bureau administers the SPP. State Department foreign policy goals guide the program. The adjutants general execute the program. SPP missions support combatant commanders' goals. They also support U.S. Chief of Mission and Defense Department policy goals. The SPP is a complex, whole-of-government series of partnerships that succeeds through unity of effort.

Some 22 of the National Guard partnerships are in Kelly's area of responsibility, South and Central America.

Kelly told the committee that, working with other countries during his 41 years of military service, he has concluded that the example set by the United States catches their attention.

The general gave an example from his prior assignment at U.S. Central Command, which has five SPP partnerships:  "The status of women in many … countries is very low," he said. "Yet, they see American units come down, and men and women working together."

In many cases, women are in command, Kelly said. "That's startling to [some countries]. And I think, over time, that is what changes these countries for the better."

Meanwhile, Gortney, whose portfolio includes advocacy for the Arctic, called the New York National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing "absolutely critical" to his command's success.

The unit is the only home to the LC-130 "Skibird" ski-equipped military transport aircraft, a variant of the C-130 Hercules that can land on snow and ice, a critical capability supporting National Science Foundation missions in Greenland and Antarctica. In 2014, the 109th successfully supported exercises with the Canadian military in the Arctic.

"It goes to how are we going to navigate, communicate, sustain ourselves [in the Arctic]," Gortney said. "The C-130 with skis - and our helicopters with skis from our other Guard outfits that help us out there - [are] absolutely critical."

USNORTHCOM partners to conduct homeland defense and civil support operations within its assigned area of responsibility to defend, protect and secure the United States and its interests. The North American Aerospace Defense Command conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning in the defense of North America.