TOPEKA, Kan. – Thirty-two foreign military attachés accredited by the U.S. and posted in Washington, D.C. visited the Kansas National Guard at the Museum of the Kansas National Guard in Topeka, Kansas, Oct. 27.
The visit was part of an orientation program coordinated by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Foreign Liaison Directorate.
The biannual orientation trips are designed to create engagement with active duty Army, National Guard, and Army Reserve components. The itineraries highlight different geographical locations on a rotating basis, providing the opportunity to familiarize attachés with varied aspects of the U.S. military, history and culture.
The trip itinerary included stops at the Kansas National Guard in Topeka, Fort Leavenworth, and Fort Riley.
“What we try to do when we plan the itineraries for the trips is really give a great flavor, not just for the Army, but also for different parts of the country,” said Maj. Gen. Mary-Kate Leahy, assistant deputy chief of staff, Intelligence. “We like to try to give them a broad perspective on the Army.”
Several members of the Kansas National Guard gave presentations on topics that included units, equipment and capabilities, history, structure, and an overview of the distinct state and federal missions the Guard supports.
“The National Guard isn’t well understood by many people, even by American citizens,” said Col. Matt Oleen, Kansas Army National Guard chief of staff and one of the morning’s presenters. “I wasn’t sure how much interaction they’ve had with the National Guard, so my goal here was to focus on the state of Kansas, state government, how we’re set up and how we operate, and the National Guard construct.”
Col. Jay Smith, director of the Foreign Liaison Directorate, highlighted the importance of incorporating National Guard elements into the orientation trips.
“You’ve got the active, Guard and Reserve components, but we can only fight as one Army, the Total Army,” said Smith. “It’s very important for our partners and allies to see all three components. Seeing only one of them doesn’t give the full picture of how the Army is able to meet its strategic challenges.”
Smith said he hopes the visit results in a better understanding of the State Partnership Program, the Department of Defense joint security cooperation program administered by the National Guard Bureau. The program links a state’s National Guard with the armed forces of a partner country to build long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with U.S. allies around the world.
“Some of the nations that are here do not have a state partner yet, but are very interested in it,” said Smith. “Seeing the relationship that Kansas has with its state partner, Armenia, may be an opportunity for another state partnership to arise.”
Smith said that the SPP is so valuable because partner nation armies can actually relate better to the Army National Guard than the active component in many ways because they may more closely resemble one another in size and configuration, and because they face similar challenges and responsibilities in their roles in domestic support and response.
The orientation trip was not the first time Col. Stephan Lissinna, military attaché from Germany and recent graduate of the U.S. Army War College, had visited Kansas. Lissinna worked for the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth as a tactics exchange instructor several years ago.
“I just started my assignment six weeks ago at the German embassy as attaché, and this is the first trip since then that the Department of the Army has organized,” said Lissinna. “So it is a big coincidence for me to have my first trip go ‘back home’ to the great state of Kansas.”
While reflecting on his experiences, Lissinna said there are numerous benefits of partnership engagements.
“You can always learn a lot,” said Lissinna. “The Army is moving forward. We need to create understanding and train together, so when we meet on the battlefield it isn’t the first time you exchange business cards, so to speak.”
Attempting to create that shared understanding was one of the goals of the presenters.
“The Midwest, and Kansas in particular, does have a different perspective on things, a different culture, different factors that influence our day to day lives,” said Oleen. He hopes the visitors had an opportunity to look at a part of the military from a new perspective and take away an appreciation for the state of Kansas and the National Guard.
That sentiment was echoed by Leahy and Smith, who agreed that the experience of being able to travel to different regions and experience different things was invaluable.
“One of the biggest advantages of the attaché orientation trips is not sitting in Washington, D.C. looking at a bunch of PowerPoint slides,” said Leahy. “It really gives our attachés a great perspective, particularly on our Citizen-Soldiers in the Guard and Reserves.”
“I want them to really understand the United States,” Smith said. “By bringing them to the states, by bringing them to Kansas in this instance, they can see and understand for themselves America and the American people.”
“Nations don’t have relationships; people have relationships. In the relationships that we form with these military attachés, whenever there is a problem – whatever that is at the political level – there will be a means for communication through those relationships we’ve formed.”