DURRES, Albania -- The senior military leaders from southeast European countries gathered for the 23rd U.S.-Adriatic (A-5) Charter Chiefs of Defense (CHOD) conference Sept. 25 to discuss regional security objectives.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Stephen Twitty, deputy commander, U.S. European Command, co-chaired the event with host nation Brig. Gen. Bardhyl Koll├žaku, Albanian Armed Forces chief of defense.

"The United States remains committed to the principle that we, as NATO allies, will always be strong; united as one," said Twitty. "We recognize the challenges of today and we are committed to preparing together for the challenges of tomorrow."

CHODs from the A-5 Charter, an association of countries committed to secure an open-door NATO policy that includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, attended along with observers from Kosovo and Slovenia.

Each country presented their exercises and successes that demonstrated the conference theme: "Enhancing NATO interoperability and readiness to face common security threats and challenges."

"The numerous exercises in which we participate is a significant example of our ability to train and fight together with our partners," said Twitty. "The more we train together, the greater our ability to come together in time of crisis."

Adjutant generals and military representatives from Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Vermont supported their respective partner countries through the National Guard's State Partnership Program with additional bilateral meetings.

Topics discussed included common defense issues and how to foster more regional cooperation.

"We trust each other more and more," said Koll├žaku. "In this way, we are better prepared to support our common goal of regional security and Euro-Atlantic area security."

Senior Enlisted Leaders (SEL) for many of the country's represented also came to the conference a day earlier to discuss ways to empower leadership in the enlisted ranks.

The A-5 international working group met earlier, too, and presented the recommendations of a biannual regional joint exercise to the CHODs as more Balkan nations work toward joining NATO.

Strengthening military-to-military relationships is just one benefit of being a member of the A-5 Charter and NATO, according to Olta Xhacka, Albanian defense minister.

"Just like the NATO integration process, the Adriatic Charter has had an effect and impact that has gone far beyond the military sector," she said. "It has served as an incentive of a number of other state-building and modernization reforms."

The annual conference concluded with the participating nations signing a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to strengthen the regional defense cooperation of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter.

Next year, Bosnia and Herzegovina will host.

"We've seen a lot of progress in region as the A-5 countries expand their capabilities and share those skills across their borders," said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Adam Flasch, director of the joint staff, Maryland National Guard. "We know we will see those relationships continue to grow stronger as they work together."