TALLINN, Estonia - U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, the adjutant general of Maryland, made his first visit to Estonia as part of the National Guard's State Partnership Program during the nation's 102nd Independence Day celebration Feb. 24.Gowen was appointed the 30th adjutant general of Maryland Sept. 1 and is responsible for daily operations of the Maryland Military Department, including bilateral military cooperation between the MDNG and Estonia.U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson, senior enlisted leader of the Maryland National Guard, also traveled to Estonia."It's a testament and honor to see Maryland National Guard service members invited to participate, front and center, in their ceremonial events," said Gowen. "I'm proud to be able to continue a strong partnership between our countries while learning about their diverse culture and history."Estonia declared its independence and sovereignty on this day in 1918, following centuries of rule by foreign powers.Places like Kuberneri Garden, the former late 1700s fortress that is now an open garden, began the day with a ceremonial flag-raising.Following the sunrise flag-raising, wreaths of flowers sporting the nation's colors were laid at the Monument of the War of Independence in Vabaduse Square. A military parade ensued."We are free, we have a rich culture, we live in good conditions, and we have many friends and allies who share the same values," Maj. Gen. Martin Herem, Estonian Defence Forces commander, said at the start of the parade. "We decide for ourselves which direction our country is developing."Since 1993, the Maryland National Guard has been partnered with Estonia through the State Partnership Program. The two nations have worked together to support Estonia's security goals through military-to-military events and exercises."The great thing about the partnership between Estonia and the Maryland National Guard is that we are a perfect match," says Gowen. "They learn a lot from us and we learn a lot from them. For 27 years, both partner countries have fostered a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship."The relationship has been used as an example for developing future partnerships in the SPP. Both countries plan to conduct joint exercises to train to respond to regional crises and improve border security."It is imperative to highlight the activities of our soldiers in international military operations, where we are not only reliable allies but certainly contributing to the well-being of the people who live in these regions," Herem said in his Independence Day speech. "It is safe to say that we will not stand alone in defending our national independence."The State Partnership Program has been building relationships for over 25 years and includes 78 partnerships with 84 nations. SPP links a unique component of the Department of Defense -- a state's National Guard -- with the armed forces or equivalent of a partner country in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.The Maryland National Guard has partnered with Estonia since 1993 and with Bosnia since 2003.