One of the U.S. military’s main themes nowadays is: You can’t have enough friends.

A State Partnership Program will be building friendships between a U.S. state’s National Guard and a foreign military — falling in line with the U.S. European Command’s strategy with African and Eastern European nations.

“If there’s one thing our nation needs to do better it is build partnership capacities around the world,” said Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, who on Monday and Tuesday led 85 participants in a conference in Garmisch, Germany, to sharpen Guard-to-nation relationships.

Since 1993, 58 nations have paired their militaries with a U.S. state’s National Guard. Utah with Morocco, for example, just worked together on an exercise called African Lion 07.

This week’s conference was sponsored by EUCOM’s directorate for logistics and security assistance.

Utah guardsmen bonded early on with their counterparts after an earthquake struck northern Morocco in February 2004. The guardsmen flew a KC-135 with blankets and other humanitarian supplies into the stricken area.

“Just after the partnership was inked, there was a significant earthquake,” said Maj. Gen. Brian Tarbet, adjutant general of Utah’s Guard. “Within hours, that plane was on the ground.”

On Wednesday in Dubrovnik, Croatia, adjutant generals from 10 states and their 10 partner Baltic and Eastern European nations will meet to explore ways to work together in the sometimes turbulent region.

Topics will include disaster response, ways for working with NATO, and tapping resources in areas such as education, economic development and health care.

One three-way meeting will include officials from Hungary and Ohio, who have been partners since 1993, as well as Ohio’s newest partner, Serbia. Serbia, the largest chunk of the former Yugoslavia, which broke apart under war in the 1990s, borders Hungary to the south.

“This is a much richer program than strictly a military-to-military program,” Blum said. “This is truly a partnership that is enduring. There’s no shelf life, no life cycle. It’s like a lifelong marriage.”

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