Bosnia and Herzegovina Emulates the National Guard
Story and photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau
SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Military leaders in this formerly war-torn country look to the National Guard as a model for reform.
A match with Maryland in the National Guard’s State Partnership Program has helped Bosnia and Herzegovina step closer to NATO membership. The country was selected for “intensified dialogue” in recognition of its continued progress on the path to alliance membership at an April 4 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.
During an April 9 bilateral meeting with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s joint staff, LTG H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, was asked for his advice as the nation continues to reform its armed forces.
The National Guard is an all-volunteer force, helping citizens is a key part of its mission and it is in every community across the United States, Blum said, speaking at times in Bosnian, suggesting that Bosnia and Herzegovina look to that model.
|LTG H Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, on April 10, 2008, pauses to reflect at the Sarajevo street corner where on June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, considered the event that precipitated World War I, resulting in about 20 million deaths|
“I used a phrase that means ‘seen as a force for good’,” Blum explained afterwards. “I explained to them the dramatic recruiting turnaround that the Guard has seen post-Katrina. Certainly bonuses and benefits have a role to play, but there’s a tremendous sense of pride in belonging to an organization that can save 17,000 American lives in the wake of a hurricane and can send 50,000 troops from every state and territory on a moment’s notice, truly the 21st century Minutemen and -women. People want to be part of something that is a force for good and not seen as a threat, and the Guard is your world-class model of that.”
Among Guard leaders visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina: Maj. Gen. Frank Grass, U.S. European Command director of mobilization and reserve component affairs, and Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, the adjutant general of Minnesota.
The visit was intended to solidify Bosnia and Herzegovina’s partnership with Maryland, lay the groundwork for a regional security cooperation conference scheduled to be held in Sophia, Bulgaria, later this year and assess the next steps for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s participation in the National Guard’s 59-nation State Partnership Program (SPP).
Future SPP activities could include Maryland troops deploying alongside those from Bosnia and Herzegovina, noncommissioned officer development, civil security cooperation, joint engineer projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina and military police exchanges.
The Guard leaders congratulated Bosnia and Herzegovina on its selection for intensified dialogue in its quest for NATO membership. “That’s the next step on their journey toward full NATO membership,” Blum said.
“They admire and respect the National Guard greatly because we have been the force that they’ve seen wearing the American flag over here for about the last eight years and they’ve really developed a tremendous respect and admiration for the Citizen-Soldier ,” he said. “They also understand the huge capability it brings to our nation back at home, and they’re looking for a way to emulate that. So it would not surprise me that they adopt that for their own system. First of all, it’s cost-effective. And second of all it would then overcome one of the greatest barriers this nation has. It has in the past feared its army and the army has actually turned on its citizenry. With the Guard, they see … that people respect us and know that their lives are either going to get saved or their lot will be made better because of our presence. They want to move to a system that allows them to have Citizen-Soldiers with the professional capabilities the Guard has developed and have the respect and admiration and support of the community and the government that the Guard enjoys.”
In a glass case at the Sarajevo War Tunnel Museum, which celebrates an 800-meter tunnel credited with helping the city survive a four-year siege by Serbian forces, Blum found three of his own coins.
A one-star coin dated to his time commanding the Virginia Army Guard’s 29th Infantry Division during a peace enforcement rotation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A two-star coin reflected his service as commanding general of the Multinational Division (North) SFOR-10 in the West Virginia-sized nation. And a three-star coin told of his continued interest in the country in his time as chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“When you fly in here and see buildings with roofs on them and children playing and people walking the streets and businesses that are thriving and commerce that is pretty robust, it’s quite rewarding from the hollow shell and the bombed-out houses and the hopeless looks on the people’s faces just a short few years ago,” Blum said. “The American presence over here is down to almost zero so, if you’re looking for a case study of how you can go in, do a military intervention and come out with a very positive outcome, Bosnia’s probably your 21st century case-study, or at least one of the more successful models. It’s striking to me the improvement that I see today in this country as opposed to what I saw when I first came here. The progress has probably not been as fast as many would have hoped, but it’s amazing.
“This is a military mission intervening to basically end a brutal, brutal civil war based on ethnic hatred and religious intolerance, and in less than a decade the United States has stabilized this nation, allowed the nation to revitalize itself as a legitimate Southeast European member of the international community. The environment is now safe and secure. The military has done dramatic reform of historic proportions to transform itself from a Communist-bloc, Cold War-aggressor military into a force that’s seen as a force for good by its people. They’ve made major steps to downsize, make the force more modern, economical, professional. They’ve reorganized so that they have the capabilities so that their military can not only protect their citizenry but actually save lives and reduce suffering and augment the civilian government when necessary to provide essential services and capabilities such as recoveries from floods and earthquakes. When I first came here, this was a divided country with three armies. Now it’s one nation with one army and the defense reform is really leading the difficult reform efforts in this nation and bringing the rest of the constitutional reform, the police reform and economic reform along with it. It’s serving as an example of what can be done.”
– The CIA World Factbook contributed to this report.