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VT National Guard starting partnership with Austria

This image was designed in Adobe Photoshop to accompany press releases from the Vermont National Guard. (Vermont National Guard photo illustration by Acting Deputy Public Affairs Officer Marcus Tracy)(This image contains two cropped photos and two graphics combined with blending techniques)
Marcus Tracy/Joint Force Headquarters - Vermo
This image was designed in Adobe Photoshop to accompany press releases from the Vermont National Guard. (Vermont National Guard photo illustration by Acting Deputy Public Affairs Officer Marcus Tracy)(This image contains two cropped photos and two graphics combined with blending techniques)

The Vermont National Guard is beginning an official partnership with the Republic of Austria, joining a list that includes North Macedonia and Senegal. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with Major General Gregory Knight, the adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, about the collaboration.

Knight: If you go back to the history of the program, the Vermont National Guard has been engaged with the state partnership for 28 years. We've been with North Macedonia for 28 years All the way up till now and their accession as the newest NATO ally. We've been with Senegal for about 14 years. And it's just been a great experience for us. I think it's important to note, there's 84 state partnerships across the Guard now and it’s across the globe. And the benefit, it certainly starts as a military to military relationship, but it actually grows from there. The foundational element of the program is it gives us opportunity to bring a whole of society approach to the partnership. And we’ve just seen that evidence here recently. I had the Minister of Defense from North Macedonia visit us in September, and they brought an econ team. So two different events, I certainly met with the Minister of Defense and her team. And then the econ delegation visited a bunch of different sites in Vermont. They talked higher education, agricultural extensions, dairy, commerce and trade. So it's been remarkably beneficial and productive for both Vermont in our host nations.

Levulis: You've mentioned some of the other partnerships. What boxes does the National Guard look to check when considering a partnership program?

Knight: So it really comes down to working with our partner nations. They have a very specific set of requests in an area of focus with their ministry of defense and their ambassador. And that's really where they try to find a good fit at National Guard Bureau. It’s a remarkably competitive process. There were a number of other guard states competing for partnership as they do with other nations that were aligned for partnership. And in our case, I thought we'd built a really good packet. We've had a historical relationship with Austria since 1983. Through the International Association of Military Mountaineering schools, we've got obviously the Army Mountain Warfare School here in Vermont. And from that, you know, really we've had long standing relationship with them working trilateral engagements in Senegal, with them North Macedonia and other nations working in physical security and stockpile management. And what that means is helping the Senegalese dispose of, safely, expired munitions that they've gotten a stockpile. So that's just an example of kind of the direction the program can take us. Again, what starts as a mil to mil relationship provides great potential to grow into other areas. And in the end, it provides, you know, assistance to those nations and regional security and stability.

Levulis: What did these partnerships mean for the members of the Vermont National Guard? Does it provide more opportunities in your mind for them to see different parts of the world, experience, intermingle with members of different countries?

Knight: You know that's a great question Jim, and what the true benefit of the program at least for me, I'm happy to do the key leader engagements and kind of set the strategic framework in conjunction with our partner nations. But the real benefit is when you watch our members working with their partners. And that's everything from you know, helping to stand up a humanitarian demining program in Senegal, developing a professional NCO corps in North Macedonia, watching them work together. It's amazing to see what they do together. There's an immediate kinship because of their affiliation through the military. But for me, they simply get experiences I can't replicate here. We do medical readiness exercises, for instance. And it was this past summer, I went to Senegal and we had a joint Air-Army National Guard medical readiness exercise working alongside their Senegalese colleagues. And I think they saw over 700 patients in about two weeks working at three different clinics in the north of Senegal. And I can't replicate that experience here. It’s just great for us. It's a great retention tool. As an incentive and it really shows that the depth and breadth of what the Guard can do.

Levulis: And finally Major General, the late General Colin Powell is being remembered this week. He was of course the first Black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State. Did you have a chance to meet General Powell?

Knight: You know, I never did. But he was always to me, kind of an unofficial mentor. And just how he did business, his pragmatism, his candor, his professionalism. I mean to me, I hold him up as an example for anybody in our military as truly a servant leader. And that's what he represented to me. We're going to miss him. Would have loved to have seen a different outcome, but it's unfortunate, but we're definitely going to miss him.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org