WASHINGTON (National Guard Bureau, Oct. 1, 2007) - The chief of the National Guard Bureau and Pakistani military officials visited the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training in central Pennsylvania Sept. 14 to see first-hand how the National Guard is transforming.

Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum and Pakistani officials arrived in the morning by helicopter at the Pennsylvania Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility and were greeted by Maj. Gen. Jessica L. Wright, the adjutant general for the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Wright led a tour through the aviation facility where numerous helicopters were being maintained by Pennsylvania Guard Soldiers and then into a briefing conducted Lt. Col. Marc Ferraro, brigade commander for the 56th SBCT.

Lt. Col. Ferraro provided insight into how Pennsylvania is progressing in its transformation into a brigade that will include 300 Stryker vehicles and 85 new construction projects. Lt. Col. Ferraro stressed the brigade is a system and a concept that allows the Army to rapidly deploy, fight, survive and sustain troops in a range of environments from war to humanitarian assistance. The 56th is one of six Stryker brigades in the Army and the only one in the National Guard.

The delegation was lead outside for a briefing on the Stryker vehicle, and was then given an orientation ride on the tank trails through Fort Indiantown Gap.

Pakistani officials were able to see how sophisticated and well equipped our force structure is becoming as the National Guard transforms from a strategic reserve and into an operational force, said Maj. Eric Christopher, an international affairs officer with National Guard Bureau.

Maj. Christopher, who has helped build a solid relationship with the Pakistan Embassy and NGB said that the Pakistan delegation was impressed with the professionalism of the Pennsylvania Guard members and the facilities on Fort Indiantown Gap. This visit served as an opportunity to build a strategic partnership between Pakistan and the NGB, he said.

Just as the National Guard predates the formation of United States, Pakistan, which declared its independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, has a rich military heritage that dates back hundreds of years prior to the forming of their nation, according to Maj. Christopher. He said that Pakistan is also transforming its military to be better able to conduct counter insurgency operations and has suffered the loss of many soldiers in the war on terrorism. "This visit showcased the combat, aviation, and maintenance capabilities that the National Guard has."

Maj. Christopher said that a partnership with Pakistan could be the most strategic relationship in the NGB State Partnership Program. "It is the only program that can bring continuity because unlike the active component it uses the same Soldiers and relationships year-after-year," he said.

"I also believe the Pennsylvania National Guard has the best capabilities and resources to match with a country as large and complex as Pakistan," Maj. Christopher said. "Pakistan is probably our best ally in the war on terror. What we must not forget is that the Pakistan people are also experiencing a tremendous loss in this war: their political system is fractured and many of their own soldiers have been killed."

He told of a recent al Qaeda ambush in the northwest region of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan that killed 15 soldiers.

In July, Lt. Gen. Blum hosted a dinner at his Fort McNair residence for a Pakistan delegation attending a senior leaders exchange at the National Defense University there. During this event, a request was made to see the Stryker concept; in response, Lt. Gen. Blum offered members of the Pakistan Embassy a chance to see the newly fielded Stryker brigade.