Guard chief stresses importance of Ohio-Serbian alliance
October 31, 2006
ELGRADE, Serbia (10/31/2006) - Peace and security in Eastern Europe, so he believed, were good enough reasons for the chief of the National Guard Bureau to spend his 60th birthday meeting with government and military leaders, including President Boris Tadic, in Serbia on Oct. 12 and 13.
LTG H Steven Blum and U.S. and Serbian officials embraced and promoted a new National Guard State Partnership Program between Serbia and the state of Ohio. The partnership was made possible when Tadic and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed a Status-of-Forces Agreement in Washington Sept. 7.
Friday the 13th was a milestone day for Blum for reasons other than the fact he had reached his 60th year. He was back in the Balkans, where he commanded a multinational peacekeeping force in Bosnia in 2001-02, as the U.S. and Serbia observed the 125th year since the two countries established diplomatic relations.
Besides Tadic, who hosted a dinner for the National Guard delegation at his official residence on Oct. 12, Blum discussed the new partnership with U.S. Ambassador Michael Polt, Serbian Minister of Defense Zoran Stankovic, and Maj. Gen. Zdravko Ponos, acting chief of the Serbian armed forces' General Staff.
All agreed that military and civilian exchanges with Ohio would enhance safety and security in that region and help Serbia's efforts to join NATO and the European Union.
"I think it is important to visit Serbia, not to share my birthday with my family but to share it with you," Blum told the defense minister in Belgrade, Serbia's capital city. "The possibilities are endless of what we can do," Blum added. "It's almost an endless menu of potential cooperation. You don't have to eat all of it, but you have to know it's available."
He frequently interjected comments in Serbian into his remarks while talking about the partnership in the ancient city, which is actually called Beograd, as a sign of his and the National Guard's commitment. Serbia lies in the heart of the former Yugoslavia.
"We are absolutely committed to a successful partnership with Serbia," Blum said. "We will spare no effort to make this successful. It is too important."
The Guard established the State Partnership Program in 1993 at the request of the Department of Defense so that states and their National Guard units could work with eastern European countries that had been members of the Soviet bloc. It is the Guard's primary program for promoting security, cooperation and international goodwill with the Defense Department's combatant commanders. States are now engaged with 54 countries in Central and South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East as well as in Eastern Europe.
The Ohio Guard has maintained a partnership with Hungary, Serbia's northern neighbor, since 1993, and officials believe Ohio helped Hungary become one of three countries admitted to NATO in January 1999.
National Guard Soldiers and Airmen apply their military and civilian skills to build democratic principles within the partnered countries, enhance the professionalism of the officer and noncommissioned officer corps, encourage economic development and promote regional cooperation and stability.
Blum reinforced the message that Maj. Gen. Gregory Wayt, the Ohio National Guard's adjutant general, delivered to military leaders while visiting Serbia in September.
"We think Serbia plays a vital role, internationally and in the region, and will be absolutely essential to the safety and security of not only Serbia but of Europe at large," Blum said during his first of two meetings with the Serbian media.
Blum, who was winding up a week-long trip to visit National Guard troops in Germany, Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, also witnessed Serbia's Special Brigade soldiers training at their base in rural Pancevo, visited the Military Medical Academy in Belgrade and explained the National Guard to nearly 400 officer cadets at the country's Military Academy.
"The partnership program with Ohio will make it possible to exchange and share medical expertise and research not only with Ohio," Blum told the medical people. "Ohio can open those possibilities anywhere in the United States."
Serbia must also determine how much help they want from the National Guard, Blum repeatedly told Serbian leaders and those who want to lead.
"It can go as quickly or as slowly as Serbia wants it to. It's like a good marriage. Both partners have to agree," Blum told his standing-room-only audience at the Military Academy. Then he told the cadets that he believes they want what is best for their country.
"I look into your eyes," he told the hushed crowd, "and see the better future for Serbia."