The Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program asks that each state and its partner nation have the ability to conduct a variety of joint exercises and training events to enhance interoperability and cooperation between partner and allied nations while building relationships. The Ohio National Guard and Serbian Armed Forces have shown commitment and dedication to that strategic initiative for 12 years and counting.
About 40 Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen traveled to the Republic of Serbia for meetings with Serbian Armed Forces and civilian leadership to increase their growing partnership. Maj. Gen. Mark E. Bartman, Ohio adjutant general, and Gen. Ljubiša Diković, chief of staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, held meetings and travelled to events together, including a wreath-laying ceremony and a military academy graduation where they shared the stage with the president of Serbia.
The week produced many engagements between the Ohio delegation and their Serbian partners, who accepted invitations to the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Land Forces Command, Military Medical Academy and the Mayor’s Office in Kraljevo. Serbian Armed Forces members also gave exclusive tours to their military partners, showcasing their unique and rich history, beautiful architecture, plentiful monuments and religious and cultural centers.
During a press conference with Diković, Bartman spoke of recent successes with exercises such as Platinum Wolf and PAMBALA, the trilateral medical event with Angola last year. Each expressed the desire to work together more and look for opportunity to grow their partnership.
Bartman expressed his gratitude to Diković for his continued leadership and support of their interoperability going forward and reminded everyone that Serbia and United States share a unique history that goes back many decades of accomplishing great things when working together.
“Really this partnership goes back many decades, as just this summer we celebrated the 100th anniversary of when President Woodrow Wilson raised the Serbian flag over the White House with his great friend (Serbian American physicist Mihajlo) Pupin,” Bartman said. “We look forward to the upcoming celebration of Operation Halyard, in particular where the collaboration between U.S. and Serbian people were able to save over 500 U.S. Airmen.”
An annual weeklong event, CAPSTONE is a culmination of the year’s events and highlights the partnership while offering opportunity to expand efforts and lay the foundation for continued growth on both the military side of the partnership and the civilian side as well, through programs like Sister Cities International.
Capt. Trevor Ducey, director of the State Partnership Program for Ohio, said he was pleased at the conclusion of CAPSTONE 2018, reflecting on all that was accomplished together with Ohio’s Serbian partners during the action-packed week of travel.
“There were many firsts during this trip,” Ducey said. “Some were for individual service members who had never been to Serbia, others for our entire State Partnership Program. For example, a meeting with the Ministry of Interior, attending the final planning conference for the NATO EADRCC (European Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center) exercise and the signing of a new sister city program between South Euclid (Ohio) and Kraljevo.”
Ducey said the CAPSTONE week reflects on the events of the past yea,r yet also helps to build the foundations for planning future events.
“We’re grateful we had this opportunity to meet with our partners, it really sets us up for success in advance of future engagements as far out as 2020, focusing in on how Ohio plays a role to support our partners,” Ducey said.
The growth of civilian partnerships is an important element of bringing the two countries closer together beyond just military connections. The sister city program introduces mayors of each city and creates a bond between the two mayors, who can then work together creatively, bringing business and culture together in a mutually beneficial partnership.
South Euclid, Ohio Mayor Georgine Welo and Kraljevo, Serbia Mayor Predrag Terzić signed a memorandum of understanding between the two newly-formed sister cities.
“It was an incredible experience to witness the respect and admiration for our Ohio National Guard by the Serbian people. Visiting with Mayor Terzić and the school children of Kraljevo truly solidified the importance of the International Sister Program and the importance of peaceful knowledge and tolerance of other nations.” Welo said. “It was an honor to work side-by-side with our Ohio National Guard.”
Capt. Matthew Eck, 180th Fighter Wing chief of public affairs who worked as a liaison between Welo and the Ohio National Guard, said, “Mayor Terzić and the people of Kraljevo were gracious hosts, showing off their beautiful community and sharing ideas.” Eck said. “Mayor Welo also shared many ideas, as well as her commitment and passion for Serbia and Northeast Ohio everywhere she went. So many important non-military connections and friendships were made that will hopefully lead to great things for both regions in the future.”
The success of this year’s CAPSTONE will carry into the next year, Ducey said. “Ohio and Serbia continue to have a great relationship. Every year that we achieve innovative and world-class engagements like we did in 2018, we will continue to create success that expands this program for years to come.”