WARSAW, Poland - Guard members supporting a NATO mission in Poland are helping preserve peace while also building readiness, observed Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, during a weekend visit here.

"Every deployment results in not one but two gains for the Joint Force," Lengyel said during a visit with Tennessee National Guard members supporting NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence here. "The obvious gain is the mission gets accomplished. But also, with each deployment, we build readiness and lethality, a key objective of our National Defense Strategy."

The members of Tennessee's 2nd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Poland are among about 40,000 Army National Guard and Air National Guard members who are contributing to the Joint Force around the world and in the homeland through the holiday season.

"They were well-trained, well-equipped, well-led Soldiers when they arrived here," said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner, senior enlisted advisor to Lengyel, who also made the visit to thank troops and assess the ongoing operation. "They can't help but leave here even better Soldiers, and that's how rotational deployments build readiness and lethality across the force."

At a traditional Polish Christmas meal for the troops, Lengyel and Kepner saw yet a third gain from the deployment: building partnerships. During the meal, Tennessee Guard members joined in a Polish custom of exchanging wafers to emphasize friendship and camaraderie. The troops milled among colleagues from Poland, Britain, Romania, Croatia and other nations contributing to the NATO mission, trading wafers, shaking hands and exchanging greetings.

"You can't pay for the kind of relationships being built Soldier-to-Soldier right here," Lengyel said. "This is the kind of exchange that cements enduring partnerships with our allies at the deepest level, through individual relationships at every rank."

Alongside fighting America's wars and securing the homeland, building partnerships - also a key goal in the National Defense Strategy - is one of the National Guard's core missions.

The Guard has been nurturing long-term partnerships through the State Partnership Program for more than a quarter-century, since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. Poland is partnered with the Illinois National Guard, and Polish Armed Forces have co-deployed with Illinois Guardsmen more than 20 times since 2003.

"The National Guard's contribution through the State Partnership Program helps to support and assure our allies, deter aggression, and build lasting security cooperation relationships based on mutual respect and common interests," Lengyel said. "We engage in highly effective, international security cooperation engagement activities that support our national security objectives.

"We strongly value our partnership with Poland and its armed forces, a bond based on deep cultural ties and shared values and tempered by shared experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq."

The Tennessee troops currently supporting NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence are performing a critical mission, Lengyel said. "They are helping to enhance defense and deterrence and increase security along NATO's eastern flank and to preserve peace.

"Poland's support to this mission sends a clear message: Our allies stand united and determined to defend NATO territory and deter aggression."

The general and the senior enlisted advisor stopped in Berlin, Germany, en route here where they met with German government leaders at the Bundestag - the nation's parliament - to provide insight on the National Guard's 382-year experience as Germany discusses how to most effectively shape its reserve force.

"The National Guard is a model emulated around the world," Lengyel said. "Other nations aspire to match the success of our Citizen-Soldier and -Airman business model and the professionalism of our noncommissioned officer corps. They see the relationships we have with our employers, families and communities and they ask, 'How can we do that?'"

In Stuttgart, Lengyel also met with U.S. European Command leadership, including Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander. The National Guard's SPP contributions are made in support of the combatant commands strategy and aligned with State Department priorities. National Guard members deployed anywhere in Europe support EUCOM.

Lengyel is the 28th Chief of the National Guard Bureau and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He ensures the 453,000 Army and Air National Guard Soldiers and Airman are accessible, capable and ready to protect the homeland and to provide combat forces to the Army and the Air Force.

The most senior enlisted member of the National Guard, Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christopher Kepner is the chief's principal military advisor on all enlisted matters affecting training, utilization, health of the force, and enlisted professional development.