By Jim Garamone, DOD NEWSJanuary 31, 2020
ARLINGTON, Va. - The meeting - at the home of Army Lt. Gen. Daniel and Kelly Hokanson - is an outgrowth of the National Guard's State Partnership Program. Hokanson is the director of the Army National Guard.
''[The National Guard] has 84 partnerships,'' Hokanson said during an interview before the gathering. A state's National Guard is partnered with a foreign military - in this case, Oregon with Bangladesh - and the two establish a relationship that fosters understanding. Oregon and Bangladesh partnered in 2008; Oregon also partners with Vietnam.
This year, the Oregon Guard will have around 15 events in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi personnel will also travel to Oregon to participate in events. The gathering at the general's home was a chance for Bangladeshi Ambassador Mohammad Ziauddin, the Bangladeshi defense attache and a Bangladeshi student at the National Defense University to meet with U.S. defense personnel to see the value of the partnership.
Bangladesh is a poor country at the head of the Bay of Bengal. It is a moderate Islamic nation about the size of Iowa and has a population half that of the United States - about 160 million.
The State Partnership Program grew out of the Partnership for Peace formed in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Hokanson said. At that time, it was a Euro-centric initiative designed to coach former communist nations in the ways the military works in a democracy. Seventeen of those nations are now members of the North Atlantic Alliance. The program expanded, and it now includes all geographic combatant commands. Bangladesh is in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command's area of operations. The Guard from all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia participate.
When Oregon partnered with Bangladesh, the first question was what Bangladesh wanted help with, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark Crosby, Oregon's assistant adjutant general. ''They said, 'Well, we want help with seaport security and airport security,'' Crosby said.
This illustrates another benefit of the National Guard in the partnership program because, in his civilian job, Crosby was the director of public safety and security for the Port of Portland and the city's airport. He was able to combine his military and civilian jobs to look at the port in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and the airport in the capital city of Dhaka and advise what the Bangladeshis needed most. He also was able to bring Bangladeshi military personnel to Oregon to see operations in Portland.
The same thing happens with other exercises. An Oregon Guard medical team that visited Bangladesh had members who were civilian doctors, nurses and administrators. They were able to quickly assess the Bangladeshi medical facilities and suggest improvements for disaster relief and humanitarian concerns, Crosby said.
The Bangladeshi military is also increasing the number of women in the ranks. The Oregon Guard sent women service members to the country to speak with leaders and troops.
The State Partnership Program is closely coordinated with the State Department and with the combatant command. Everything under the program is integral to the combatant commander's theater security cooperation plan, Hokanson said.
Another benefit of the program comes from the nature of the National Guard itself. In many countries, the idea of an individual being a Citizen-Soldier is new. Guard personnel has experienced from their civilian lives that don't go away when they put on the uniform. Guard members also are usually not as transient as active-duty personnel. ''One of the great things is it's another avenue of communication,'' Hokanson said. ''Mark's been doing this since 2008. So, he's a familiar face. … He's got … a decade-long relationship with these people, where they're extremely familiar. They can actually provide, you know, a level of access you may not get otherwise because they're familiar with us.''
Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Stencel, Oregon's adjutant general, has a Guardsman in the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, but the expense of the program is really quite small. ''The amazing part is [that] day-to-day, it's a very small number,'' he said. ''We've only got a couple [of] full-timers, and the person that has oversight of the program is a part-timer.''
He said the returns from the program are invaluable in terms of building relationships and building capacity with allies. ''We really do it on the cheap, and we get a lot done for a very small amount of money,'' Stencel said.