LINCOLN, Neb. –
Thirty years after they were first matched as one of the original – and most unique – collaborations within the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, members of the Czech Armed Forces and representatives from the Nebraska and Texas National Guard celebrated their ongoing partnership during a nearly-weeklong celebration in Lincoln, Nebraska, Aug. 23-27, 2023.
Taking place during the Guardians of Freedom Airshow nearly 100 Czech dignitaries representing the Czech Armed Forces, Czech Ministry of Defense, the Czech Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the Czech Senate spent five days participating in numerous ceremonies, concerts, demonstrations and meetings designed to not only celebrate 30 years of collaboration, but to also set the future for a partnership that is still the only one in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program (SPP) matching a single nation’s military with two participating state National Guard organizations.
The SPP evolved from a 1991 U.S. European Command decision to set up the Joint Contact Team Program in the Baltic Region with Reserve component Soldiers and Airmen. A subsequent National Guard Bureau proposal paired U.S. states with three nations emerging from the former Soviet Bloc and the SPP was born, becoming a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.
Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.
Today, there are more than 88 partnerships with 100 nations around the globe.
According to the senior leaders of all three organizations, the partnership between the Czech Armed Forces and the Nebraska and Texas National Guard, that began in 1993 following the end of the Cold War with the goal of helping the Czech Republic prepare to become members of NATO, remains on solid ground today.
“During this 30 years of our partnership with both Nebraska and Texas, we benefited a lot as a military,” said Czech Lt. Gen. Karel Rehka, Czech Chief of Defense. “It helped us transform from the socialist conscript-type of military into a modern, professional military of a democratic state.”
Rehka, who participated in his first State Partnership Program engagement in 1994, said that as a result of this collaboration, the Czech Armed Forces grew into full partners in NATO, ready to serve with their allies whenever and wherever called upon.
“This partnership pays back,” Rehka said. “And we can return it on the battlefield when it’s needed.”
And that’s extremely important in today’s international climate, said Frantisek Sulc, 1st Deputy Minister of the Czech Ministry of Defense.
“It is 30 years of cooperation and learning from each other and friendship,” Sulc said during the Aug. 24 opening ceremony for the Guardians of Freedom Airshow. “Thirty years that has been mutually beneficial… and it’s going to be the same for years to come.”
“We are allies. We are standing shoulder by shoulder in times when evil wants to rule over the freedom and democracy,” he said. “It has been almost 22 years since the terrorists cowardly and deliberately attacked the U.S. The Czech Republic stood by its U.S. ally. Czech troops deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq… and some of them lost their lives.”
“(Today) we are together helping Ukraine against Russian aggression,” he said.
During the nearly week-long celebration, Czech servicemembers participated in parachute demonstrations at the airshow, conducted meetings with members of the Nebraska National Guard, and conducted concerts and precision drill demonstrations in Lincoln and Wilber, Nebraska, which bills itself as “the Czech Capitol of the United States.”
In fact, it was these significant cultural ties to the Czech Republic – Nebraska has the highest per-capita of citizens with ties to the Czechoslovakia in United States going back to the end of the 19th Century – that played a significant role in Nebraska and Texas to be matched with the Czech Republic.
It’s also a continuing source of strength of the relationship that continues to evolve into new missions and efforts, say leaders from the Texas and Nebraska National Guard.
“All those years later brings us to today and the celebration of our 30-year partnership,” said Brig. Gen. Camacho, Texas National Guard deputy adjutant general-Air. According to Camacho, the SPP relationship has been extremely beneficial to all three organization as well as to world, itself.
“The way we preserve peace is through our allies,” he said, adding that members of the Texas and Nebraska National Guard look forward to 30 more years of collaboration “and where this partnership will take us with our brothers and sisters as we fight alongside you to help secure your borders and as you help us secure ours.”
Brig. Gen. Craig Strong, Nebraska National Guard adjutant general, agreed.
“The American-Czech partnership is strong, and it is only going to get stronger,” Strong said, adding that the work that has occurred and will occur during the Czech-Nebraska-Texas exchanges and activities, has enabled the U.S. to continue to develop the capabilities it needs to successfully work with its many international allies.
“I know if I go into battle and I see the Czech flag, I am confident that we have each others’ back,” Strong added. “And that means a lot.”