SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. - United States Army Central hosted an open forum Feb. 5-6, 2019, at Patton Hall, welcoming U.S. Army Reserve and National Guardsmen who have troops serving in Central Command's area of responsibility.

"Operation Spartan Shield Community of Excellence is a forum to bring National Guard and Reserves general officers together to talk about Operation Spartan Shield and what is happening in theater when it deals with Compo 2 (Component 2, National Guard) and Compo 3 (Component 3, Army Reserves) units," said Col. Darius Gallegos, the deputy director of the USARCENT Army Reserves Engagement Cell. "It allows senior leaders from both compos to come together and share common challenges and provides a way for us to overcome them together. In the USARCENT AOR, the National Guard and Army Reserve make up anywhere between 50 to 58 percent of Army forces at any given time."

State Partnership Programs were also a main point of discussion. An SPP links a state's National Guard with the equivalent military forces of another partner nation in a mutually beneficial relationship. In 25 years, the program has built 75 relationships with 81 nations around the globe. Through cooperation, the two partnered forces help each other reach security goals, as well as state and DOD directed foreign policies.

The forum connected the adjutant generals of their state's National Guard, who are in charge of their individual SPP, to the active component combatant commander and other supporting officers at USARCENT.

"Coming here, first of all, gives me an azimuth check of what the mission looks like and what my Soldiers are doing overseas for the CENTCOM area," said Maj. Gen. Durr Boyles, adjutant general, Mississippi National Guard. "We're also an SPP partner. That is a state partnership with Uzbekistan, which is also a CENTCOM country. It also gives us some reference point as I engage a partner country what the goals are for CENTCOM and USARCENT so that I can be a messenger for not only CENTCOM and USARCENT but the United States of America, as we develop that partnership."

Another advantage of this forum is the ability to share tactics and techniques across the total Army, which comprises the active Army, Army National Guard, and Army Reserve. As missions are completed by units on the ground, the incoming unit may not be of the same component.

"It's great being able to share some of the lessons that we're learning from their deployment over there, said Boyles. "They followed an active component and they're being followed by an active component. (There are) a lot of moving parts to that, and so being in this forum helps us have better visibility on that."

While attendees mainly focused on their respective branches, some also have command of joint forces who support the missions aligned to CENTCOM's AOR.

"I also command Air Force assets," said Boyles. "I have re-fuelers, cargo carriers, C-17s that are in the CENTCOM area continuously. So having that visibility also helps me with those units. I can go back, and we can have a discussion about what's on the ground and what they can expect about the missions coming to them."

Having a mission like Operation Spartan Shield, a mission that builds partner capacity in the Middle East promotes security, enhances readiness and strengthens the ability to rapidly respond.

"This mission really enhances our preparedness," said Boyles. "I use the (phrase), 'we're not your granddaddy's Cadillac anymore'. The National Guard used to be a strategic force, we're now an operational force for the Army and the Air Force."

Those who are able to serve their country in this unique mission are eager to do so.

"I've got 4,000 [Service Members] deployed to the CENTCOM AO, they want to be there," said Boyles. "They came from schools. They came from auto mechanic jobs. They came from professional jobs back in Mississippi. They want to take time away from that job and go serve their country in uniform in a contentious AO. They're some of your best Soldiers. They'll also go back into their communities and … tell their stories. They bring the nation closer, and they build support for the operations we're doing overseas. So let's never discount the value that the National Guardsman brings to the table."