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, the 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 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 provided daily strategic and tactical counsel 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 who 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, 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 said 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, noting that his Soldiers get to see the consequences of 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 President Biden authorized support 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 Ukraine.
These APCs can move troops and equipment across battlefields while protecting from small-arms fire and artillery. The U.S. military stopped purchasing them in 2006, when the M2 Bradley replaced them, so the National Guard could 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, shipping them was 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 to Ukraine of 4,320 ballistic vests, 1,580 helmets, seven 50-bed field hospitals, and personalized care packages.
The assistance is symbolic of the bond 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.
Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California National Guard, said 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 of 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 relationships National Guard members have built in Ukraine and throughout the world, Hokanson said.
“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.”