ARLINGTON, Va. – Pinned down by a Russian tank and armed with only a failed anti-tank missile, a Ukrainian soldier recently turned to an unlikely source as the most effective weapon available, his cell phone. On the other end was a member of the Washington Army National Guard. Because they had trained together in Ukraine previously, the Ukrainian soldier knew the Guard member was an expert on the system. Despite being at home in the United States, he talked his Ukrainian counterpart through the misfire procedures, and 30 minutes later received a video of the destroyed tank.
Guard members continue to train the Armed Forces of Ukraine at training sites located throughout eastern Europe as part of the same mission. In addition to providing training, the National Guard has sent critical supplies and equipment ranging from hospital beds to Armored Personnel Carriers to Ukraine, and has provided daily direct counsel at strategic and tactical levels to Ukrainian forces.
"When events started to occur, some folks were surprised by how Ukraine performed," said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau. "Everyone within the National Guard says it's not a surprise to us at all, because they've been training them, and training with them, for almost 29 years."
That training continues in eastern Europe with the 160 Florida National Guard members that were repositioned from Ukraine to eastern Europe before the Russian invasion. They are part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine. The mission of this group of U.S. Soldiers, joined by NATO allies and partners, is to participate in rotational combat training, with Ukrainians taking the lead.
They recently resumed this rotational training, this time with the Ukrainian forces rotating to their locations in eastern Europe, instead of them rotating into Ukraine.
“They were really disappointed about having to leave,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard. He added that the Guard members constantly receive texts and videos from their Ukrainian counterparts when they rotate back into combat in Ukraine.
“It’s a very emotional event that they’re involved in,” said Eifert adding that his Soldiers get to see the first-hand consequences their training through those messages from the front lines. “They’re constantly reminded of the seriousness of their endeavor.”
In addition to relationships on the ground in Europe, the first shipment of National Guard equipment flowed two days after the president authorized support on April 13.
The Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia Army National Guard were part of a combined effort to send about 200 M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers to the Ukraine.
These APCs can move troops and equipment across battlefields, while providing protection from small-arms fire and artillery. The U.S. military stopped purchasing them in 2006, when they were replaced by the M2 Bradley, so the National Guard was able to provide them to Ukraine at no detriment to their mission. However, due to their size and the necessity to ensure the integrity of their armor, this made shipping them a large logistical movement.
“We got short notice, the team did a complete technical inspection and we’re able to get all these things ready ahead of time, in less than five days,” said Brig. Gen. Justin Mann, director of the Indiana National Guard’s joint staff. “So, a monumental, herculean effort by our maintainers, doing great work and getting this equipment ready.”
The California National Guard also facilitated the shipment of 4,320 ballistic vests, 1,580 helmets, and seven 50-bed field hospitals in support to Ukraine. They also sent personalized care packages. This is symbolic of the tie between the state and country that goes back nearly 30 years to when Ukraine and the California National Guard became charter members of the State Partnership Program. This Department of Defense program is managed by the National Guard, and pairs each state’s National Guard with a partner country in a military-to-military partnership.
This made the California National Guard uniquely involved since the very beginning of the Russian invasion, as many of its leaders and members had trained together for decades.
“Since their partnership began in 1993, they have conducted more than 1,000 military exchanges. While the rest of the world underestimated the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the California National Guard did not,” said Hokanson.
The Adjutant General of the California National Guard, Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin added that he and leaders in his chain interact with their Ukrainian counterparts daily, through video conferences, phone calls, and text messages. They also set up a 24-hour emergency operations center to field calls from Ukrainian military members.
He pointed to the success of the “outnumbered, outgunned Ukrainian Air Force,” as an example of the benefit the daily communication with his Air and Army Guard members, and as proof of the positive impact of their commitment.
“California’s National Guard has formed an unbreakable bond with our Ukrainian counterparts and when the call was made to provide support and aid in a time of need, we responded with overwhelming support,” said Baldwin.
This is the depth of the bonds that the National Guard members have built, not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world, said Hokanson.
“That’s why we are so proud of the State Partnership Program and continue to strengthen ties with our allies and partners, who provide an unmatched strategic advantage and help maintain global order.”