July 2023 will mark the 30th anniversary of the State Partnership Program relationship between the Nebraska and Texas National Guard and the Czech Republic – a rare collaboration that has evolved into a partnership operating on equal footing.
“It’s a little bit unique to have two states that work with one partner … but the Czech Republic is the only one that has two actual states that support it,” said Lt. Col. Mark Fitzgerald, of the Texas Army National Guard, and a former bilateral officer for Nebraska, Texas and Czech Republic.
The partnership trio has grown exponentially in the past three decades.
“We really went from the small, classroom-type environments to … doing operations, figuring out how to have interoperability, how to understand each other’s tactics and understanding each other’s verbiage,” said Lt. Col Shane Varejcka, the Nebraska National Guard State Partnership Program director.
Varejcka said Nebraska and Texas partnered with the Czech Republic because of population heritage.
“They kind of tried to find states that had some semblance of cultural alignment,” he said. “And both Texas and Nebraska have significant Czech populations within their borders.”
Fitzgerald echoed Varejcka’s explanation, adding, “But the two of us states together really, really work well to provide some of what the Czech military requires in the training.”
A one-sided beginning
The relationship began a bit one-sided in 1993, as most Eastern European counties were still attempting to shed the Soviet influence socially, economically and militarily. The Czech military was no exception.
Fitzgerald said the differences between the American and Czech armed forces were glaringly apparent in the early 1990s. The Soviet body politic still shadowed former Warsaw Pact nations despite President Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika and the toppling of the Berlin Wall.
“At that time, the Czech Republic was just coming out from underneath a decade’s worth of Soviet oversight,” Fitzgerald said. “They had a 300,000-man army. They had 20 different divisions. They had compulsory service. So their army looked a lot different than the United States Army.”
But the guidance of Nebraska and Texas has helped facilitate wholesale changes in the Czech military.
A ‘preeminent’ NATO member
Senior Master Sgt. Brad Siegersma, of the Nebraska Air National Guard, who served in National Guard missions to the Czech Republic, said he is impressed with the central European nation’s military.
“I truly have an immense respect for the Czech military … It’s been not even 30 years they came from Cold War Eastern Bloc, you know, working with the Russians in a completely different style of executing combat,” Siegersma said. “I feel like they’re one of the preeminent members of NATO now.”
Varejcka said a prime example of the Czech forces’ evolution is their transition to reliance on noncommissioned officers, noting that the U.S. military depends on its NCOs.
“They are our first line of leaders for our soldiers and airmen,” Varejcka said. “That’s where they get their leadership. That’s where they get their motivation and purpose. And so the Czech Republic, of course, didn’t have that in 1993. And over the time, that has been a significant priority for both the Czech Republic and Nebraska and Texas.”
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He said the Czechs ultimately established an NCO academy to formally train all NCOs in providing purpose, motivation and direction to lower-level soldiers.
“And I will tell you today, 30 years later, the Czech Republic looks at their NCO corps just like we do,” he said.
But the relationship has also gone the route of cyber warfare due to the Czech Republic’s proximity to volatile hotspots.
“I can tell you the relationship now is really cyber-focused … and then we’ve got an interest on how we think the Czech Republic could best fit into that defensive shield in Central Europe,” Fitzgerald said. “And then the Czechs have their own interest in how they think they should execute. But we just want to be that guide on the side for them.”
Sharing best practices
Fitzgerald said it’s about sharing best practices, but is a mutually beneficial relationship. The U.S. can observe the Czech’s precision and skillfulness in their systems operation.
“They frequently have a more common sense approach that has less layers in it, less decisions, less red tape, I’d say,” Fitzgerald said. “They execute in a more common-sense manner frequently.”
He said a recent order of Bell helicopters by the Czech Republic reflects the country’s commitment to 21st century synchronization with other NATO member nations.
“They get a modern system that links really well with us,” Fitzgerald said. “And then the rest of our partners in Central and Western Europe, everybody’s trying something that’s NATO, it’s just that much more interoperable … and, you know, just to continue to grow that security shield that the Czech Republic is a part of NATO and the EU. And those things matter.”
Varejcka said engagements in the Czech Republic between their military and the Nebraska and Texas Guards have increased dramatically. Initially, they were basic, teaching Czech soldiers English, but they’ve expanded into more technical and dynamic training activities and have increased in frequency.
“We do somewhere, between 25 and 30 engagements in the Czech Republic, and we do another five to 10 in the United States,” Varejcka said.
Built on trust
And if reality becomes a conflict, Siegersma feels the Czechs are up to the task. He believes missions can be accomplished, and outcomes of successful integration between partner countries will occur if a combat scenario presents itself.
“I truly believe we have that kind of relationship,” the explosive ordnance disposal technician said. “And I know definitely at the small-unit level, where I can integrate an EOD team from the Czech army, and then a team from the Nebraska Air National Guard, put them together, and they could hit the ground running and be very effective in their operations. Because they know what we’re going to do. We know what they’re going to do. And that’s huge.”
Siegersma’s first engagement with the Czechs was six years ago, conducting route clearance training. He said one of the key takeaways from his SPP experiences is how the National Guard has positioned itself to build a long-term relationship with the Czech Republic.
“We’ve been able to, on a personal level, know the people that are our counterparts and continue to develop those relationships over a long term,” he said. “And it has a huge impact … when you’re doing a three-year rotation in EUCOM you don’t have that ability to build a long-term relationship with your counterpart, pick up a phone and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this problem,’ or, ‘Hey, we’d like to do our next engagement,’ or ‘We’d like to cover this information.’”
Varejcka distills the partnership down to trust.
“I think the biggest significance is the trust that we’ve built,” he said. “The trust and relationships we’ve built over the last almost 30 years.”Read comments