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Role in Pacific may grow

National Guard relationships are key with partner nations

As tensions in the Indo-Pacific grow, the National Guard may be tasked with helping to meet the challenge. U.S. Army photo

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The National Guard is considering expanding its relationships with Indo-Pacific nations in the form of training programs, Defense One reported on its website last week. This could further Joint Base Lewis-McChord's mission of enhancing security and stability in the region.  

The Guard has more than 90 training arrangements with nations around the world. The Washington National Guard recently marked its 20th anniversary of its partnership with the Kingdom of Thailand.

During a recent trip to Indonesia, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said prioritizing the Indo-Pacific is important because of China's increased aggressiveness in the region. He also pointed out that the region lacks a NATO-like collective security alliance.

Of the training programs in consideration by the State Department, "five of those ten" are in the Indo-Pacific, said the chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Dan Hokanson in the Defense One article.

"As you know, it's a very important theater right now," he explained.

For over the past two decades, the Guard has added 15 of the 36 Indo-Pacific nations to its partner training program list comprised of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, and Vietnam. 

The Guard usually adds between two to four training partners a year; although, Hokanson pointed that state guard units have the ability to support about 30 more partner nations in total.

In the state programs, between 5 to 50 guard personnel temporarily deploy to partner nations, and vice-versa. During the exchanges, the two militaries work together on the training of non-commissioned officers, improving cyber security, or becoming familiarized with each other's command and communications structure.

Within the Indo-Pacific region, "there's a lot of island nations; there's a lot of emerging areas; so, we are working very closely with those," continued Hokanson.

The smaller island nations are crucial to the military's new approach to the Pacific, where it is working on scattering its fighter jets and ships away from major bases like Yokosuka Naval Base or Kadena Air Base in Japan, thus making it difficult for Chinese forces to strike them.

Hokanson said he plans to travel to the Indo-Pacific region by the end of the year. His recent travel has been to talk with European partners due to Russia's recent invasion of Ukraine. But an unmistakable presence is needed in both theaters, he said.

"It's a constant message," concluded Hokanson. "Because China and Russia are out there; and we need to show that we are partners and that we are vested."

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