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Partnership Endures Through COVID-19 Pandemic – MDNG Top General Conducts Initial Visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Article and photos by U.S. Army Maj. Kurt M. Rauschenberg, Maryland National Guard State Public Affairs Office; Staff Sgt. Sarah M. McClanahan, Maryland National Guard State Public Affairs Office

After 16 months of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland National Guard is able to once again rejuvenate their nearly 18-year, enduring partnership with the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Timothy E. Gowen, adjutant general for Maryland, traveled for the first time to BiH on June 22, 2021, with the mission of making up for lost time with a treasured ally.

Gowen traveled to Sarajevo, BiH to meet with key leaders, Sifet Podžić, BiH Minister of Defense, AFBiH Lt. Gen. Senad Mašović, chief of defense, and Eric Nelson, U.S. ambassador to BiH. Together, they observed Coordination 2021, a civil military emergency preparedness exercise that reassured the importance of the SPP. Additionally, Gowen discussed his priorities in securing future training opportunities together.

During the CMEP exercise’s distinguished visitor day, facilitated by Selmo Cikotić, BiH Minister of Security, Gowen witnessed the value of interagency coordination and support to civil authorities during an earthquake scenario.

Nelson stressed that Coordination 2021 emphasizes the importance of cooperation between military and civilian structures and the non-governmental sector during crisis situations.

The MDNG’s experience in crisis response, specifically with the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters, can be used to help develop BiH’s civilian structure capabilities and the AFBiH’s role in crisis situations, said Nelson.

Responding to natural disasters, such as floods or forest fires, is a key mission for the AFBiH and supporting civil authorities. Much like with the MDNG, their timely and efficient action is crucial for a successful emergency response.

“Here we are… watching a civil-military exercise,” Gowen said. “It’s training like this that allows us to thrive in this partnership together.”

During this initial visit to BiH, Gowen was accompanied by Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson, senior enlisted leader of the MDNG, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rob Wille, Maryland Army National Guard G3 Training Division Chief. Wilson and Wille visited the AFBiH Training and Doctrine facility in Travnik, BiH, to engage with the AFBiH TRADOC commander and staff. Together they discussed and planned future training opportunities the MDNG could facilitate for AFBiH noncommissioned and commissioned officers.

“One of the major projects I’d like to take on is potentially creating a way for our AFBiH counterparts to attend courses with the MDARNG’s 70th Regimental Training Institute,” said Wille. “It’s something the MDARNG could likely facilitate, but it requires the right sources of funding to make it possible.”

Wille, who previously served as the Deputy Commander for the 70th RTI, sees the potential for progressive SPP opportunities for the MDNG and AFBiH.

Normally, the MDNG and AFBiH would complete about 50 training events in a typical fiscal year. However, the COVID-19 pandemic placed a hold on many in-person SPP activities for more than a year. Some SPP events were still conducted virtually, such as a long-lasting public affairs initiative between MDNG and AFBiH to enhance strategic communications, resources, and media operations. This initiative was last directly observed during exercise Silver Arrow 2019.

Today, many AFBiH public affairs professionals still use camera equipment provided by the MDNG years ago and have the opportunity to attend the public affairs course for international students at the Defense Information School in Fort Meade, Maryland.

For the first time last month, BiH hosted a Defender series exercise known as Immediate Response 21. Initially, the MDNG had planned to send public affairs and infantry members to participate. Due to complications posed by the pandemic, this too was thrown into a spiral. Regardless, this successful exercise served as an important milestone for the AFBiH, as it was the most amount of U.S. military personnel in BiH since 2005.

Prior to traveling to BiH, Gowen visited U.S. Army Europe and Africa, headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany, to discuss future training opportunities for MDNG and SPP counterparts. During his discussions with USAREUR-AF deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Jarrard, and with training and exercise key leaders, Gowen emphasized his intent to stand side-by-side with AFBiH counterparts in future USAREUR-AF exercises, such as the Defender exercise series.

“Participation in the Defender exercise series with our AFBiH counterparts just makes good sense,” Gowen said. “[Not only will it] enhance the relationship under the state partnership program, but it’ll also enable us to spend our 20th year together in 2023 to reach common goals and objectives and to achieve a shared vision like never before. We can help one another reach maximum multinational interoperability, taking security cooperation to the next level.”

Achieving multinational interoperability is one of the most significant training objectives in the European operational environment. BiH is a member of the U.S. –Adriatic Charter, or A5, which is an association among the U.S. and Western Balkan states. A5 promotes regional cooperation and assists with achieving NATO accession. Historically, the MDNG has facilitated various training opportunities with BiH participation, assisting in their progress towards becoming a NATO member.

The MDNG’s enduring partnership with AFBiH will continue to contribute to this progress. Gowen’s initial visit to BiH and his discussions with key leaders like Mašović will help to pave the way for future training opportunities such as the Defender series.

Mašović talked about the need to focus more on civil-military activities and reflected on the many accomplishments of the SPP, specifically mentioning a shared deployment to Afghanistan between the AFBiH and MDNG’s 115th Military Police Battalion in 2013.Without skipping a beat, Gowen and Mašović shook hands as they parted ways, exemplifying the MDNG and AFBiH’s long-lasting partnership.

“The MDNG intends to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our AFBiH partners at future Defender exercises,” Gowen said. “We intend to get back to work, side-by-side, training together in the near future, supporting one another, growing together, and achieving anything imaginable.”