HONOLULU (Army News Service, Feb. 7, 2008) - Following successes in Europe, South and Central America, the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa, the National Guard's State Partnership Program is expanding in the Asia-Pacific region.

"These partnerships are limited only by what the two partners want to accomplish," said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, characterizing the SPP as two-way relationships built on trust that outlives individual political administrations. "None are more important than the ones we have in the Pacific," he said.

The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Timothy Keating, has endorsed Bangladesh's request for a SPP and asked Blum to nominate a National Guard state for this new partnership. If approved, this SPP would bring the number of foreign countries matched with U.S. states to 59. Five of these are Pacific Rim or Southeast Asian countries, and Blum predicted that much of the SPP's expansion in the next two to three years will occur in the region. (Some states have more than one partner.)

"Our nation needs to do this," Blum said. "It is ... absolutely essential in our international relations in the future."

"The potential and the opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region are significant," Keating told attendees. "Underpinning this potential is the requirement for security and stability, and that's where we all come in. ... Thanks for your efforts. It's making a difference. Life is better for hundreds of millions of people throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and a big reason is the effort you're putting forth in the State Partnership Program."

Marine Lt. Gen. John Goodman, the commanding general of Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said, "Everything we do from now on is about partnerships, ... setting the conditions where we can ... helping one another move forward together to address this complex, dynamic, changing security environment."

"The United States in its national defense military strategy sees the need to do a much better job than we have done ... in increasing our partnership capacity," Blum said. "There's nobody better-suited to do it than the National Guard. Anytime you call out the Guard to do anything, you call out America, and this truly calls out Americans into an international program that otherwise wouldn't be involved."

Keating said his impression of the National Guard was profoundly affected by working with Blum on the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "I developed an intense and abiding appreciation and respect for what the National Guard does for our country," he said.

The first-ever two-day Pacific State Partnership Program Regional Workshop in Honolulu in late January, co-hosted by Blum and Maj. Gen. Bob Lee, Hawaii's adjutant general, brought together Indonesia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand and their respective National Guard partner states of Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Washington.

Foreign military chiefs, National Guard adjutants general and others discussed activities that promote mutual security cooperation, stability and progress throughout the 41-country PACOM area of operations. The SPP in the Pacific draws on the resources of PACOM, the National Guard Bureau, National Guard states, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, U.S. ambassadors and country teams and other agencies and individuals.

Workshop discussions focused on military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civil security cooperation issues as well as funding for SPP events and related topics. Among issues to which attendees assigned a high priority:

Aca,!Ac Joint noncommissioned officer and officer training. "We're down at the Soldier level," said Maj. Gen. Donald Goldhorn, the adjutant general of the Guam National Guard, which is partnered with the Philippines. "We're down at the E-5, E-6 level. That's where the relationships really need to start." Long-serving Guard leaders speak of foreign enlisted Soldiers and officers who held low ranks when the SPP started in the 1990s and now are among their nation's military leaders, saying such relationships built over the long-term pay dividends that can't be matched.

Aca,!Ac Developing mutual language skills. "We need to learn their language as much as they need to learn ours," said Maj. Gen. Craig Campbell, the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard, whose partner is Mongolia.

Aca,!Ac National Guard officers serving in partner countries as bilateral affairs officers and foreign officers serving at state joint forces headquarters. "These programs all succeed because of personal relationships," said Maj. Gen. Timothy Lowenberg, the adjutant general of the Washington National Guard, whose partner is Thailand.

The SPP taps the unique missions of the National Guard and its Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen. "They [are] the best ambassadors for the United States," Blum said. "The ability to achieve anything is always done through the magnificent work of the Citizen-Soldiers and -Airmen. They bring not only their very, very fine military skills, ... but ... civilian life experience, civilian-acquired skills, the ability to interact with other people in an environment outside of the military ... and [they] say more about what's right about America than anything that we could say through ... other programs."

Senior military representatives from Indonesia, Philippines, Mongolia and Thailand echoed these sentiments.

SPP activities include exchanges by high-level military and civilian leaders. Military-to-military contacts bring state National Guard members together with foreign troops. Military-to-civilian activities focus on homeland defense, homeland security and military support to civilian authorities, including disaster preparedness, emergency response and consequence management.

The SPP is more about sharing ideas and knowledge than strictly military exchanges, Blum said. The partnerships can address a wide variety of shared security issues, including border security and migration, combat medical training, computer and financial crime, defeating improvised explosive devices, disaster response, humanitarian assistance, illegal drugs, military support to civilian authorities, peacekeeping operations, port security and weapons proliferation.

The National Guard Pacific partnerships unite three countries that share the risk of tsunamis with four Western National Guard states that are also at risk. Other regionally shared issues include cyclones, hurricanes or typhoons, mudslides, the pandemic influenza threat and high seas piracy. By addressing these issues ahead of time, National Guard and foreign leaders can avoid exchanging business cards for the first time in a crisis that calls for swift, effective mutual aid.

Civilian-to-civilian security exchanges often grow from the SPP, with increased contacts between U.S. and foreign businesses, educational institutions, farmers, doctors, lawyers and scientists.

"This state partnership brings so much more than the military side," said Lee, the Hawaii adjutant general. Lee pointed out that he and some other adjutants general also act as their states' civil defense and emergency managers, and homeland security leaders, meaning they can offer even richer skills to their SPP partners.

Scheduled upcoming exchanges between Hawaii and Indonesia include hurricane and military exercises and enlisted and officer training. Blum called that partnership "particularly significant because of the geographic location and the strategic importance of Indonesia, [which] has the largest Muslim population in the world." More than 210 million Muslims live there.

The Asia-Pacific region includes 51 percent of the earth's surface, said Brig. Gen. Skip Vincent, PACOM's deputy mobilization assistant. Almost 60 percent of the world's population lives there, and it includes the four most-populous nations - China, India, Indonesia and the United States. Five of America's seven mutual defense treaties are in the region, with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand.

More than 25 percent of the world's trade and 50 percent of its oil are there.

"This [SPP], while today it's just with four countries here, hopefully in the not-too-distant future will be with many more countries here," said Goodman, the Marine lieutenant general.

Keating noted that trade between the United States and Japan has increased by a factor of four in the last 20 years and between the U.S. and China by a factor of 50. He also said the Pacific is home to three of the world's four largest economies, and 15 of its 20 largest ports, including the largest of all, Shanghai.

"If you haven't been [to Shanghai] in the last week or so, it's a different city," he said. "It's changing that rapidly."

Partnerships are created through discussions among countries, ministers of defense, the U.S. ambassador, regional combatant commanders, adjutants general, governors and the chief of the National Guard Bureau, which administers the SPP.

The SPP started in the Baltic region of Europe in 1993 after the collapse of the former Soviet Union, focused on matching U.S. states with former Soviet satellite nations. "This partnership provided them a chance for the path to NATO and the European Union that they wanted to take to determine their future," Blum said.

The SPP later expanded to South and Central America. Goodman saw the SPP at work firsthand during a U.S. Southern Command assignment as chief of staff. "I gained an extraordinary appreciation for the power of the State Partnership Program," he said. "It's of extraordinary value."

Central Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and Africa came next. The U.S. in October established Africa Command (AFRICOM). "I expect that [region's partnerships] will also grow dramatically in the next two to three years," Blum said.

No SPP relationship has ended and none has failed since the program's inception 15 years ago. The SPP benefits from its ability to connect nations with the U.S. at the state level, Guard leaders said. "Our federal government is a complex and somewhat intimidating system to deal with," Blum said. "This lets them get into America through a portal that's comfortable for them."

(Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill writes for the National Guard Bureau.)