The National Guard’s State Partnership Program began in 1993 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The program is aimed at increasing cooperation between former Warsaw Pact Eastern European countries and the United States. It also fosters mutual interests and establishes long-term relationships across all levels of society. It introduces these countries to democracy, assists them in building professional military institutions and helps their responses to civil emergencies.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were the first countries to join the partnership program, and the Maryland National Guard was partnered with the Republic of Estonia. The Maryland Guard was instrumental in getting Estonia into NATO and in 2003, became one of the first states to have a second partnership; one with Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“Maryland was setting an example with the state partnership program with Estonia,” said Maj. Jon C. Eisberg, Deputy Chief and Bilateral Affairs Officer for the Office of Defense Cooperation U.S. Embassy, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Eisberg, a Westminster, Md. native and the former commander of A/1-158 Cavalry Regiment, was asked by the adjutant general to take the deputy chief position in 2006.
The SPP consists of military-to-military interactions – training exercises, unit personnel exchanges and noncommissioned officer development; military-to-civilian interactions – military support of civil authority, disaster response and consequence management; and civilian-to-civilian interactions – developing professional institutions through civic leader visits, university education exchanges, professional and chamber of commerce exchanges.
“As the program matures, then we’ll start to get into the civilian aspects. We have done some civilian-to-civilian events. We’ve done two civic leader visits. We brought both civilian leaders from Maryland as well as business leaders and educators over here to meet some of their counterparts in an attempt to create self-sustaining relationships,” said Eisberg.
The many military-to-military events that the Maryland National Guard supported has helped reform the BiH armed forces, contributing to their entrance into the Partnership for Peace program. State Partnership Program is a bilateral program, while the Partnership For Peace program is a multilateral NATO program and among the first steps into NATO accession. The two programs are not tied together, but the SPP can assist a nation in getting into PFP.
During the June 5 U.S.–BiH Military Cooperation Day in Mostar, the MDNG’s Color Guard conducted a joint presentation of the Colors. This was the first time that they have played such a role in a Bosnian event. The ceremony included a joint U.S.-BiH paratrooper drop and a flyover by F-16s. Later the ambassador along with the BiH government signed a Memorandum of Understanding, confirming continued funding of the International Military Education and Training program.
In the summer of 2006, the 175th Air Wing of the Maryland Air Guard completed a medical humanitarian mission. They served more than 2,000 patients in 14 different villages, providing medical access to people who normally would not have had it.
The 235th Civil Engineering Flight of the 175th Wing is renovating the interior of a primary school in the town of Vlasenica in eastern Bosnia. This humanitarian assistance project falls under the Guard’s deployment for training program to get training on real-world projects for members of civil engineer squadrons.
They will work and live in the town where the school is located for 30-40 days. In addition to renovating the school, the 235th along with Bosnian engineers plan to repair the Igman War Memorial. The memorial is dedicated to a U.S. ambassador, a U.S. diplomat, a U.S. Army colonel and a French Army driver who were killed in 1995 when their vehicle rolled off the road on the side of Igman Mountain.
From September 1-16, the 115th Military Police Battalion is scheduled to send 15 MP’s to Sarajevo to conduct joint training exercises. Since the beginning of the State Partnership Program in 1993, the program has evolved and now pairs 59 countries around the world with 50 state Guard organizations.
I see the program maturing, said Eisberg. “I see Maryland becoming an integral partner in assisting BiH refine a professional well-trained military on the road to NATO integration. I see Maryland and Bosnia conducting more and more activities together to include deploying together,” said Eisberg.
“Today, our armed forces remain committed to preserving peace and stability in this region and stand ready to assist Bosnia and Herzegovina as it further integrates into NATO. The United States Armed Forces stood by Bosnia and Herzegovina during some of the most difficult times in its recent history and will remain a deeply committed friend, partner and ally as you move towards a brighter future,” said Charles English, U.S. ambassador to BiH, during the Military Cooperation Day ceremony.