By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke
National Guard Bureau
STUTTGART, Germany (6/15/09) – Most of the coalition forces currently involved in Operation Enduring Freedom come from countries participating in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
Many of them are part of Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams, or OMLTs, which embed themselves into the Afghan National Security Force units and provide the training and mentorship needed to help the ANSF become a more effective force.
“These teams live, eat, sleep and fight alongside their Afghan brethren,” said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Marshall, the director of Mobilization and Reserve Affairs for U.S. European Command.
Many of the OMLTs are comprised of troops from the National Guard and their partner countries.
“What a wonderful maturation of this program to show how we started by building relationships and how now we are fighting side-by-side with other soldiers on the ground in a major contingency,” said Gen. Craig R. McKinley, chief of the National Guard Bureau. “We really didn’t know it would evolve to this, but that’s just the way the world turned.”
The first OMLT formed when Michigan and Latvian troops deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. Since that time, 11 other states have deployed with their SPP country as part of an OMLT or as a simple co-deployment.
“The number of bilateral, or co-deployments between states and their partner countries to Afghanistan and Iraq is a clear testament to the SPP’s value,” Marshall said.
Illinois deployed with its partner country, Poland, to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a Bilateral Embedded Staff Team, which is an extension of the OMLT concept.
“We have seven years of combat experience with the Poles,” said Maj. Gen. William Enyart, the adjutant general of Illinois, who has worked with Poland since he was a lieutenant colonel.
A team of 11 Illinois Soldiers deployed to Iraq with the Poles in 2003. The Polish Army commanded Multi-National Division-South, and one of the Illinois Soldiers served as the logistics commander for the Poles.
When the Poles left Iraq last year, the Illinois team went to Afghanistan, where another Polish division controls the Ghazni Province.
“The leverage that team of Illinois National Guard Soldiers provides is nothing short of phenomenal in terms of integrating the Poles with the multi-national force and into NATO,” Enyart said.
Through these experiences, both countries have learned a lot from each other. “It is not a situation where we’re teaching the Poles, we’re training the Poles, we’re doing everything for the Poles, it’s a two-way street,” Enyart said.
The cultural exchange creates openness and sharing, he said. “… the Poles by virtue of their geographic position have a much different world view than a farm boy from Illinois. So, I think [it] has been a tremendous gain.”
Enyart said continuity is the key to these relationships. “As we say in the emergency management business, you don’t want to be exchanging business cards in the middle of a flood. We have followed that pattern with Poland. There is a level of trust. They know what we are capable of doing, and we know what they are capable of doing.”
Over the last several years, Enyart said he has watched as the Soviet-era leadership has retired, so “now you have officers that have grown up not with a gun pointed at NATO but as part of NATO. They are much more transparent, much more open now. We have developed such a history with Poland. We’re battle buddies.”