By Joshua Cohen
Vermont National Guard Public Affairs
The Defense Department announced on Oct. 15 a new partnership between the Vermont National Guard and the Austrian Ministry of Defence, establishing Vermont’s third state partnership in the 28-year history of the program.
The program links a state's National Guard with a partner nation's military, security forces, and disaster response organizations in a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
The SPP is authorized by law (Section 341 of Title 10, United States Code) and governed by DOD Instruction 5111.20 with the mission "to support the security cooperation objectives of the United States.” The partnership with the Republic of Austria is preceded by agreements in 1993 with North Macedonia, now a NATO member, and the Republic of Senegal in 2008.
In a memorandum sent to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau on June 23, 2021, Vermont's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Gregory Knight, explained why Vermont is the "best choice to engage in this partnership," one that informally began in 1984 when the Vermont Guard and Austria commenced cooperation through the Army Mountain Warfare School, U.S. Army Biathlon Team, and the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain).
Vermont is postured to provide the niche mountain warfare capabilities Austria seeks and has received from Vermont for over 35 years. As recently as 2020, Austria cited compatibility with the Vermont Guard's Mountain Brigade and "the mutual benefit to honing collective skills in complex alpine terrain and supporting U.S. strategic objectives within the European Command Area of Operations," as stated in the Vermont Guard's State Partnership application.
As a result, "an official partnership under Section 341 of Title 10 authority will enhance the already developed, long-term, mutually beneficial relationship that has been in place," the memorandum states.
Regarding security cooperation, the Vermont Army National Guard currently has units deployed in support of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). Similarly, from 1996 to 2001, Austria rotated a battalion to contribute to the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In another example of the longstanding relationship, the Vermont National Guard also conducts trilateral events with Senegal and Austria through the Physical Security and Stockpile Management Program which trains and mentors partnering countries on the proper storage and disposal of munitions.
Supporting the destruction of mines and munitions, Austria has contributed to several NATO Trust Fund projects in other partner countries by aiding in the destruction of mines and munitions. Austria engages with NATO through the Partnership for Peace (PFP) framework, which they joined in 1995.
NATO and Austria actively cooperate in peace-support operations and have developed practical cooperation in a range of other areas beneficial to the new SPP with Vermont. Partnering with Austria will help synergize this while supporting EUCOM's number one Line of Effort: to deter Russia.
While a partnership with Austria supports U.S. overseas objectives, the Vermont National Guard possesses multiple capabilities that support Austrian Ministry of Defense priorities. These include cyber and counter cyber operations and training.
The Guard's Defensive Cyber Operations Element (DCO-E) has supported SPP partners Senegal and North Macedonia with numerous cyber assessments. Also of interest to Austria, the Vermont Guard's electronic warfare capabilities encompass electronic attack, support, and protection.
As stated, mountain warfare remains extremely important to Austria. The Vermont National Guard stands at the forefront of innovation, knowledge, and real-world application of mountain warfare and complex terrain tactics, techniques, and procedures in Unified Land Operations for the United States Military.
Furthermore, Vermont's economic and agricultural enterprises acutely mirror those of Austria. This partnership will enhance economic growth opportunities for Vermont and Austria alike through a whole-of-society approach. Several large businesses with close ties to Austria already exist in Vermont.
According to Vermont Governor Phil Scott, “This new strategic partnership is a testament to the respect the Vermont National Guard has earned in Washington D.C. and around the world, I am excited to see our new partnership with Austria develop, because as we’ve seen, not only does the State Partnership Program support military efforts, but economic and cultural relations as well.”