Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told an audience of senior military officers from around the world Monday that the National Guard’s State Partnership Program has strengthened the U.S. and its allies.
"We are stronger together than we will ever be by ourselves," Milley said at a National Guard Bureau event at National Harbor, Maryland, commemorating the program’s 30th anniversary.
"These relationships are critical to all of us," he added of the SPP’s partnerships. "In times of crisis, you can surge people, but you can’t surge trust.
"The war in Ukraine demonstrates when crisis hits, you call the people you know and trust first."
Since 1993, the SPP has facilitated mutually beneficial security cooperation between the 54 states, territories and the District of Columbia the Guard represents and what is now 100 countries overseas.
Milley’s remarks drew military and diplomatic leaders from roughly 90 of those nations, plus all 54 of the Guard’s adjutants general.
Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the NGB chief, also spoke at the event at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.
Hokanson manages and administers the SPP — which geographic combatant commanders execute around the globe — and he additionally serves as a JCS member with Milley.
"The SPP is ultimately about people," he said. "It is about finding commonality across people and languages.
"We may be separated by language and distance, but we are united by what we seek — a peaceful, stable world," Hokanson suggested.
SPP partnerships involve the Guard collaborating with foreign governments and militaries on challenges like stopping drug trafficking and responding to natural disasters.
On Monday, Milley said the trust the SPP cultivates is essential for overcoming threats to global security and stability like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine over a year ago.
"When you pick up the phone and call someone you trust, that can make the difference between chaos and order," he stated. "That can sometimes mean the difference between war and peace.
"You develop deep, meaningful relationships when you have broken bread together and visited one another’s hometowns," Milley continued.
Ukraine was one of 13 nations that helped launch the SPP in 1993 after the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
The U.S. has often cited the California Guard’s deep bond with Ukraine as a difference maker in the Ukrainian military’s recent battles against Russian forces.
Last night, Milley thanked Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., for helping recognize the SPP’s achievements.
Milley then characterized the SPP as part of an American diplomatic tradition stretching back to the Revolutionary War.
"The United States never goes to war alone," he noted. "We fight with the collective power of our network of partners and allies.
"That is how it has always been for the United States, even since our birth," Milley concluded. "Together, we have sacrificed, and many have died, for the spirit of freedom."
Milley additionally cited Michigan Guardsmen and Latvian troops entering combat in Afghanistan together as an example of the enduring ties the SPP builds.
According to Milley, relationships like these will prove crucial in the years ahead as the U.S. navigates near-peer competition with China and Russia.
"Relationships that are paid for in blood can never be broken," he said. "More than half the world's nations are working together for democratic ideals, self-determination and the rule of law."
— By Mark Hensch