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NGB Chief: Guard Training Helped Steel Ukraine Military

Washington Report

The National Guard Bureau chief says Ukraine’s ability to blunt Russia’s invasion shows how the Guard defends American values by partnering with foreign nations.

Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson hopes the Guard’s State Partnership Program will grow following Ukraine’s resilience, which is partially a product of a 29-year partnership with California.

“When you see what’s happening in Ukraine, you see the value of that,” Hokanson, who is also on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said while discussing SPP on Monday in Washington, D.C.

“We knew they were good because we trained them,” Hokanson added of the Guard’s Ukrainian military partners. “Sadly, they’re having to put that to use every single day.”

Hokanson was speaking at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonpartisan nonprofit research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

Since 1993, the SPP has paired Guard states with allies and partner militaries worldwide.

The program began in Eastern Europe with newly independent nations like Ukraine that had been under the former Soviet Union’s control after World War II.

Now, the SPP boasts 85 partnerships between 93 nations and the Guard’s 54 U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia.

“In many cases, it is a mutually beneficial relationship,” Hokanson said. “We learn from them. They learn from us.”

Hokanson estimated the SPP had produced about 1,000 engagements between Ukraine and California’s Guard over nearly three decades. 

These interactions include training events, subject matter expert exchanges, visits between both partners and tactical training.

For instance, Ukraine’s military is currently using small arms strategies learned from California’s Guard against Russian forces. The nation’s air force has also trained extensively with the California Air Guard.

“Ultimately, it’s their personal sacrifice and dedication to stand up and fight for their country,” Hokanson said of Ukraine’s performance. “That makes all the difference in the world.”

Hokanson noted he is interested in expanding the number of SPP partnerships worldwide. 

“Right now, we believe that we could grow an additional 30 partnerships and still maintain that capability,” he said. “We try to add two or three every year.”

“The thing that’s critical for that is stable funding so we can continue to plan multiple events every year every time like we did with Ukraine,” Hokanson added.

Hokanson said NGB is examining which 30 potential partners would best fit SPP in the next 10-15 years.

New SPP partnerships involve coordinating the Guard, the State Department, the military’s relevant combatant commands worldwide and foreign governments.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February after years of tension between the two nations. 

The event sparked international outcry, with the U.S. and much of the international community criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Hokanson said the SPP advances America’s interests abroad by offering the Guard’s institutional knowledge to allies like Ukraine.

“If there’s a capability that doesn’t exist in that state, you can pull from all 54 National Guards to get the training and experience that you want to learn from,” he said.