ARLINGTON, Va. — Pinned down by a Russian tank and armed with a single malfunctioning anti-tank missile, a Ukrainian soldier recently turned to an unlikely source as the most effective weapon available: his cell phone. On the other side was a member of the Washington Army National Guard. Because they had trained together in the Ukraine, the soldier knew the Guardsman was an expert in the system. Although he was at home in the United States, he spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart about the misfire procedures and 30 minutes later received a video of the destroyed tank.
Members of the Guard continue to train the Ukrainian Armed Forces at training sites throughout Eastern Europe as part of the same mission. In addition to providing training, the National Guard sent essential supplies and equipment ranging from hospital beds to armored personnel carriers to Ukraine and provided day-to-day strategic and tactical advice to Ukrainian forces.
“As the events started to unfold, some people were surprised by Ukraine’s performance,” said Gen. Daniel Hokanson, head of the National Guard Bureau. “Everyone within the National Guard says it’s no surprise to us at all because they’ve been training them and training with them for almost 29 years.”
This training continues in Eastern Europe with the 160 members of the Florida National Guard who were repositioned from Ukraine to Eastern Europe before the Russian invasion. They are part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine. The mission of this group of American soldiers, joined by allies and NATO partners, is to participate in rotational combat training, with Ukrainians in the lead.
They recently resumed this rotational training, with Ukrainian forces moving to their locations in Eastern Europe instead of moving into Ukraine.
“They were really disappointed to have to leave,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. James O. Eifert, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard. He said members of the Guard were constantly receiving text messages and videos from their Ukrainian counterparts when they returned to Ukraine to fight.
“They are involved in a very emotional event,” Eifert said, noting that his soldiers can see the consequences of their training through these messages from the front lines. “They are constantly reminded of the seriousness of their business.”
In addition to on-the-ground connections in Europe, the first delivery of National Guard equipment was made two days after President Biden authorized support on April 13.
The Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and West Virginia National Guard were part of a combined effort to send about 200 M-113 armored personnel carriers in Ukraine.
These APCs can move troops and equipment across battlefields while protecting them from small arms fire and artillery. The US Army stopped buying them in 2006, when the M2 Bradley replaced them, so the National Guard could supply them to Ukraine without harming their mission. However, due to their size and the need to ensure the integrity of their armor, their expedition represented a significant logistical movement.
“We had short notice, the team did a full technical inspection and we are able to prepare all these things in advance, in less than five days,” said Brig. Gen. Justin Mann, director of the Indiana National Guard’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. “So a monumental, Herculean effort from our maintainers, doing a great job and getting this gear ready.”
The California National Guard also facilitated the shipment to Ukraine of 4,320 ballistic vests, 1,580 helmets, seven 50-bed field hospitals and personalized care packages.
The aid is symbolic of the bond between state and country that dates back nearly 30 years, when Ukraine and the California National Guard became founding members of the State Partnership Program. This Department of Defense program is run by the National Guard and combines each state’s National Guard with a partner nation in a military-to-military partnership.
This made the California National Guard uniquely involved from the very beginning of the Russian invasion, as many of its leaders and members had trained together for decades.
“Since their partnership began in 1993, they have completed more than 1,000 military exchanges. While the rest of the world underestimated the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the California National Guard did not,” Hokanson said.
Army Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California National Guard, said he and his channel leaders interact daily with their Ukrainian counterparts through video conferences, phone calls and SMS. They also set up a 24-hour emergency operations center to respond to calls from the Ukrainian military.
He pointed to the success of the “outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainian Air Force” as an example of the advantage of daily communication with its air guard and army members and as proof of the positive impact of their commitment.
“The California National Guard has formed an unbreakable bond with our Ukrainian counterparts, and when the call went out to provide support and assistance when needed, we responded with overwhelming support,” Baldwin said.
That’s the depth of the relationships National Guard members have built in Ukraine and around the world, Hokanson said.
“That’s why we are so proud of the State Partnership Program and continue to strengthen ties with our allies and partners, who provide unparalleled strategic advantage and help maintain global order.”
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