WASHINGTON — When tension rose in Ukraine in the past few weeks, questions were quickly raised about what type of U.S. military presence was in or around that eastern European nation.
The answer: National Guard forces from Tennessee, who were busy training Ukrainian troops to be better prepared against Russian aggression.
National Guard forces from different states have been in Ukraine since July 2015, part of an international training group to help improve the country’s internal defense capabilities and training capacity. Since the training began National Guard forces from California, Oklahoma, New York and Tennessee have participated.
The first Guard troops to assist Ukraine arrived in 1993, as part of the Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP), In that program one or more state’s National Guard units are linked with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative relationship for an ongoing relationship.
California National Guard troops have been partnered with Ukraine since 1993. They regularly participate with other U.S. forces in the annual Rapid Trident military exercise, which were first held in 1995.
The SPP operates in 81 nations, under a program that begins its 26th year in 2019, the National Guard says.
“It gives the U.S military the opportunity to form relationships and friendships with these nations and give us the ability to be global,” Capt. Alicia Lacey of the National Guard Bureau told TMN. “We foster these relationships over the course of several years. What better way to go to nations that you want to work with?”
The program grew from a 1991 U.S. European Command decision to set up a Joint Contact Team Program in the Baltic Region with Reserve component soldiers and airmen, according to Master Sgt. W. Michael Houk of the National Guard Bureau.
“A subsequent National Guard Bureau proposal paired U.S. states with three nations emerging from the former Soviet Bloc and the SPP was born, becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level,” according to the National Guard website.
Those first three programs were Maryland with Lithuania, Pennsylvania with Estonia and Michigan with Latvia.
The program is coordinated by the National Guard Bureau and implemented by state adjutants general of participating states.
“Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social sphere,” the Guard website says.