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A State Partnership Program Primer

Now in its third decade, the Guard’s State Partnership Program—70 relationships strong—makes Soldiers sharper, our allies stronger and our citizens safer. But how well do you know it? Take our quick tour.
SFC Balendran Anandarajah, Hawaii Army National Guard SPP NCO, explains risk assessment tools to soldiers from the Indonesian Army on April 2014. Photo by SFC Theresa Gualdarama
SFC Balendran Anandarajah, Hawaii Army National Guard SPP NCO, explains risk assessment tools to soldiers from the Indonesian Army on April 2014. Photo by SFC Theresa Gualdarama

If your recruiter was like mine, before your Guard career ever started, you heard tales of Army Soldiers taking overseas trips to exotic locations. Like, actual exotic locations, not “hot and sandy and people shooting at you” kind of exotic. For many National Guard Soldiers and Airmen around the country, the State Partnership Program (SPP) offers those experiences. But it’s much more than that. As one of the three major Guard missions (the other two being fighting America’s wars and responding to domestic crises), the SPP helps us broaden our footprint of Guard influence around the world, improve relations between the U.S. and developing nations, and gives us invaluable connections with other countries for training and real world missions—even in those hot and sandy places. It also helps Guard Soldiers make a real difference in the lives of millions of people from Albania to Vietnam.

For those who could use a refresher on its significance and its reach, here’s a quick introduction to—and celebration of—this significant mission that, among the U.S. military branches, belongs only to the Guard.


Officially, the SPP was established in 1993, but its beginnings go back two years earlier, when the Soviet Union collapsed and its individual states were thrust into survival mode. Because the USSR had built such a centralized government and military, many of these young countries were building their militaries (and in some cases, their governments) practically from scratch.

With the memory of the Cold War still warm in U.S. minds, American leaders looked for ways to encourage stability in this vacuum of power. They found it in the National Guard, which combined military skills and civilian infrastructure-building knowledge with a unique position as a state-based force. The Guard could teach the citizens of these brand new countries to be Citizen-Soldiers. These relationships between Guard units and foreign governments would be less of a threat to new Russia than if the Active Duty Army had stepped in. And the specific skill set that the Guard brought as our nation’s community protectors was perfect for the job.

The SPP began as a small part of the bigger Joint Contact Team Program (JCTP) initiative, which started in 1992. Through the JCTP, a national exchange program was built with Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania as the first participating nations, partnering with Michigan, Maryland and Pennsylvania, respectively.

European commanders quickly saw the value of these relationships, and as more countries signed on to the program, so did more states. By the end of 1993, 15 partnerships had been enacted. Eventually, the model spread outside United States European Command (USEUCOM), and today the SPP’s 70 partnerships are found in each of the six geographic Unified Combatant Command regions spanning the globe. 


The SPP is a joint Department of Defense initiative that connects a U.S. state or territory’s National Guard with a partner country’s military. Both invest in and benefit from the relationship. The National Guard Bureau administers the program, guided by State Department foreign policy goals, and adjutants general oversee the partnerships at the state level using guidance from combatant commanders and other U.S. leadership goals.

Minnesota Guard Soldiers from the 851st Vertical Engineer Company help rebuild a local community center in Croatia on June 23. Photo from Minnesota National Guard.

Minnesota Guard Soldiers from the 851st Vertical Engineer Company help rebuild a local community center in Croatia on June 23. Photo from Minnesota National Guard


Security and value. Low-cost stability operations in high-risk countries are a great foreign policy investment, meaning generally fewer terrorists in that region.

Broad training. Partner countries gain valuable insight and training from Guard personnel with a wide range of skill sets, including infrastructure building and first-response training.

Drill variety. Guard units receive training opportunities in real-world missions and varied settings and get to practice their foreign language skills. (And, by the way, they can taste beers from around the world after their work is complete.)

Additional relationships. Foreign nations benefit from exchange programs, which often include partnerships with universities and civic organizations.

Force multipliers. Provides opportunity for U.S. and foreign nation co-deployments, increasing mission capabilities.

Richer experiences. Serves as a tool for recruitment and retention of Guard Soldiers.

Civilian advantages. Provides civic benefits for partner nation populations, which benefit from co-sponsored projects, improving governmental capabilities.

Business potential. Improves financial opportunities for partner nations, as stateside businessmen participate in relationship building.

High-tech lessons. Partner countries get greater access to emerging tech, including cyber security and state-of-the-art military training tools.


Kentucky and Djibouti (2015)

The most recent arrangement was signed in June. The blend of the Kentuckians’ civilian and military experiences gives a nation such as the East African country of Djibouti a highly skilled and adaptable partner in countless fields, says Major Wes Chaney, the U.S. Embassy to Djibouti security cooperation officer. Djibouti hosts the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier. Along with civilian partnerships among civic organizations, universities and businesses, Kentucky’s troops will help train the local national first responders.

North Dakota and Togo, and Benin (2014) 

Last year, North Dakota entered into its second and third partnerships with these small, neighboring African nations (Togo is officially called the Togolese Republic). This past May, both African countries sent participants to a week of presentations and professional development courses, kicking off the blossoming relationship among the three nations. 




National Guard Bureau Chief Lieutenant General John Conaway is the first senior leader to visit potential partner countries, including Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, and proves the importance of the program to senior Department of Defense leadership.


President George H. W. Bush enacts a National Security Strategy referencing a “whole of society” approach to security cooperation. This stability-building strategy fits the Guard’s SPP program perfectly.


Full-time Guard personnel are deployed to partner countries for the first time and immediately have an impact on partner nations.


Louisiana pairs with Belize and Uzbekistan (later assigned a partnership with Mississippi) to become the first state with multiple partnerships. 


Missouri establishes the first USSOUTHCOM partnership, with Panama, showing that the program could work near just as well as it worked far.


Utah and Morocco form the first USAFRICOM partnership, which would eventually prove to be a tremendously important region to world stability.

APRIL 2005

Rhode Island takes one for the team and partners with the paradise nation of the Bahamas, as it becomes USNORTHCOM’s first partner country.


The extent of the program’s potential culminates as the first co-deployment occurs. Ohio and Hungary both send troops to train Afghan National Army Soldiers.


The SPP makes its relationship with the world official. Funding, which until now had come from a variety of random sources, is standardized when the SPP becomes a DoD “Program of Record.”


A historic partnership is formed between former U.S. adversary Vietnam and the state of Oregon.

JUNE 2015

Kentucky and Djibouti form the 70th—and most recent—state partnership. Another tentative partnership is in the works with Kenya. 


1. Nation requests participation through U.S. ambassador

2. U.S. ambassador endorses request to the combatant commander

3. Combatant commander ensures partnership request fits U.S. goals and strategy as well as availability of funds

4. Combatant commander requests state nomination from chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB)

5. Chief of the NGB nominates the state to combatant commander

6. Combatant commander endorses nomination with memos to U.S. ambassador and NGB chief

7. Partnership interaction begins

Maryland National Guard public affairs members and Arno Pugonen, chief, EOD Center, create storyboards of video shot sequences. The U.S. Army European Command’s Humanitarian Mining Action program brought the Estonian Rescue Board and Maryland National Guard Soldiers together to create public service announcements. The purpose of this project is to raise awareness of and educate the public about the unexploded ordnance issue in Estonia. Photo from Maryland National Guard

Maryland National Guard public affairs members and Arno Pugonen, chief, EOD Center, create storyboards of video shot sequences. The U.S. Army European Command’s Humanitarian Mining Action program brought the Estonian Rescue Board and Maryland National Guard Soldiers together to create public service announcements. The purpose of this project is to raise awareness of and educate the public about the unexploded ordnance issue in Estonia. Photo from Maryland National Guard



One of the biggest benefits to individual partner nations is the opportunity for their soldiers to train at U.S. facilities. After a year of preparation, Polish students trained in July at the Professional Education Center (PEC), one of the National Guard’s premier National Training Facilities in North Little Rock, AR. The students attended a cyber security course and will bring the world-class training they received back to Poland, helping keep their population safe from the emerging threat of cyber terrorism. To further their SPP relationship, Illinois sent two Soldiers to go through the training with their Polish counterparts.


Proving that the SPP partnerships go far beyond typical military training, a public affairs team from Maryland joined forces with government officials from Estonia in June to produce a series of public service videos highlighting the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO). “If you are playing with explosives, there are only two real possibilities,” Arno Pugonen, chief of the EOD Center, part of the Estonian Rescue Board, said. “You will go to prison, or you are injured or dead.” Making use of Maryland’s video production capability, Estonia’s population will be more informed about the danger of UXO, a problem caused by previous conflicts in their nation.


There are not many missions Guard Soldiers get to participate in that are more rewarding than investing in the lives of underprivileged children. Last September, Guam and Hawaii both partnered to send Soldiers to the Philippines to rebuild a high school that had been ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan. They rebuilt seven classrooms in three schools, providing a safe place for local kids to learn and grow.


The U.S. military has a wealth of female role models. In May 2014, many of those women participated in an event held in Suriname that was cosponsored as part of South Dakota’s SPP with the South American country. The event empowered female members of both countries’ military and civilian populations. In addition to keynote addresses, conference attendees enjoyed one-on-one mentoring with some of the best and brightest military minds the U.S. has to offer.


  • First responder training
  • Establishment of disaster response teams and facilities
  • Specialized military training, such as aviation operations, military police or cyber defense
  • Infrastructure projects, such as road building
  • Participation in major training events
  • Co-deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan
  • Border or port security missions
  • Search and rescue
  • Public health and wellness support
  • Cyber security consultation and training


“Those relationships continue to be very strong. … It’s been very effective, and we look forward to find ways to broaden and expand it.” — Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

“It is much more than just a program; it is a relationship we both have built. We faced challenges, shared hardships together and always came out stronger in the end.” — Brigadier General Dobran Bozic, former Slovenian chief of the general staff, referring to Slovenia’s partnership with the Colorado National Guard since 1993

“The globalization of our societies has made our world smaller, and borders are now blurred by our ever-changing world. In that short time period, the National Guard and states continue to build close and lasting personal relationships with our partner nations around the world.” — General Frank Grass, chief, National Guard Bureau

“This endeavor began as a military partnership and has spread to health care, business and economic partnerships. Another delegation will visit from North Dakota that will bring experts in the field of industry, trade and agriculture. They will reach out to the people of Ghana in an effort to enhance the value to this SPP.” — Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley, North Dakota, referring to the state’s 11-year partnership with Ghana


1) Suriname, on the northern coast of South America, with a population (539,276) just smaller than Wyoming’s, is a partner of South Dakota. What is its official language?

a) Surinamese

b) Spanish

c) Dutch

d) Semaphore

2) True or false: Liberia, which is located on the west coast of Africa and partners with Michigan, has one of only two capitals in the world named after a U.S. president.

3) Moldova, located between Romania and Ukraine and partnered with North Carolina, is known as one of the least visited nations in Europe. Which of the following products is not considered a thriving industry there?

a) wine

b) sunflower seeds

c) automobiles

d) tobacco

4) Which of the following flags belongs to Bangladesh, Oregon’s partner?

5) Georgia, the nation, partners with Georgia, the state. Match the fact with the correct Georgia.

Features 100 miles of coastline

Highest point is 16,627 feet

Bordered by only four states

Prominent mineral: staurolite

Prominent dish: cheese pie


1: C. 

2: True. Its capital, Monrovia, is named after James Monroe. The other world capital is Washington, D.C. 

3: C. Miscellaneous fact: Moldova ranks 21st in the world in wine production, despite being the 133rd largest country. 

4: B. The dark green of the flag represents the Islamic faith of most of the population, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, but it’s also said to symbolize the country’s lush vegetation. The red disk, symbolizing the blood shed by citizens fighting for independence and the rising sun of a young country, is slightly off-center so that it will appear centered when hoisted. 

5: Coastline: Georgia the state (Georgia the nation has about 193 miles). Highest point: nation (Mount Shkhara); highest point in the state is Brasstown Bald. Bordered by four states? Nation (Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan). The state is bordered by five (Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee). Staurolite: It’s the official mineral of the state. Cheese pie: The pizza-like dish known as khachapuri is popular in the nation.



United States Northern Command North America

Rhode Island/Bahamas (2005)


United States Southern Command Central and South America and the Caribbean

Arkansas/Guatemala (2002)

Connecticut/Uruguay (2000)

Delaware/Trinidad-Tobago (2004)

District of Columbia/Jamaica (1999)

Florida/Venezuela (1998), Guyana (2003), Virgin Islands/RSS (2006)

Kentucky/Ecuador (1996)

Louisiana/Belize (1996), Haiti (2011)

Massachusetts/Paraguay (2001)

Mississippi/Bolivia (1999)

Missouri/Panama (1996)

New Hampshire/El Salvador (2000)

New Mexico/Costa Rica (2006)

Puerto Rico/Honduras (1998),

Dominican Republic (2003)

South Carolina/Colombia (2012)

South Dakota/Suriname (2006)

Texas/Chile (2008)

West Virginia/Peru (1996)

Wisconsin/Nicaragua (2003)


United States Africa Command Africa

California/Nigeria (2006)

Kentucky/Djibouti (2015)

Michigan/Liberia (2009)

New York/South Africa (2003)

North Carolina/Botswana (2008)

North Dakota/Togo (2014),

Benin (2014), Ghana (2004)

Utah /Morocco (2003)

Vermont/Senegal (2008)

Wyoming/Tunisia (2004)

State to be determined/Kenya 


United States European Command Europe

Alabama/Romania (1993)

California/Ukraine (1993)

Colorado/Slovenia (1993)

Georgia/Georgia (1994)

Illinois/Poland (1993)

Indiana/Slovakia (1993)

Iowa/Kosovo (2011)

Kansas/Armenia (2002)

Maine/Montenegro (2006)

Maryland/Estonia (1993), Bosnia (2003)

Michigan/Latvia (1993)

Minnesota/Croatia (1996)

New Jersey/Albania (2001)

North Carolina/Moldova (1996)

Ohio/Hungary (1993), Serbia (2005)

Oklahoma/Azerbaijan (2002)

Pennsylvania/Lithuania (1993)

Tennessee/Bulgaria (1993)

Texas, Nebraska/Czech Republic (1993)

Vermont/Macedonia (1993)


United States Central Command

Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia

Arizona/Kazakhstan (1993)

Colorado/Jordan (2004)

Mississippi/Uzbekistan (2012)

Montana/Kyrgyzstan (1996)

Virginia/Tajikistan (2003)


United States Pacific Command

Pacific Ocean Region

Alaska/Mongolia (2003)

Hawaii, Guam/Philippines (2000)

Hawaii/Indonesia (2006)

Idaho/Cambodia (2009)

Nevada/Tonga (2014)

Oregon/Bangladesh (2008)

Oregon/Vietnam (2012)

Washington/Thailand (2002)



Latvia became the first partner nation after requesting assistance.


In 1991, when the SPP was initiated, Operation Desert Storm is launched; the Internet is released to the world; The Silence of the Lambs hits movie theaters; and Boyz II Men tops the charts.


In FY13 (the most recent data available), there were 739 total SPP events around the world.


From 2003–2013, 16 SPP partner countries co-deployed forces to Iraq and Afghanistan in 87 rotations.


The 70 countries that participate represent 35 percent of the world’s nations.