New Jersey National Guard, Albania celebrates 20-year partnership

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Matt Hecht
  • New Jersey National Guard

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. – Leadership from the Republic of Albania Armed Forces arrived on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Sept. 19 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the bilateral agreement created in 2001. The New Jersey–Albania Partnership is one of 22 European partnerships that make up the U.S. European Command State Partnership Program and one of 65 worldwide partnerships that make up the National Guard State Partnership Program.

Since the partnership began, more than 100 training events have taken place, including special forces training, military police training, explosive ordinance disposal exercises, medical readiness, and NCO/Officer Corps Development, including an Officer Candidate School, hosted in New Jersey.

This training was considered a key factor for Albania being admitted as a NATO partner in 2009.

The New Jersey National Guard and Albania partnership made history in 2011 when Soldiers from both countries deployed together as part of an Operational Mentor and Liaison Team paired with an Afghan Army battalion to train its troops on everything from logistics to combat operations. Three groups of New Jersey-Albania training teams conducted nine-month rotations in Afghanistan.

The Humanitarian De-Mining Training Center certified Airmen from the 177th Fighter Wing’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) and 108th Wing Medical staff to conduct Humanitarian Mine Action projects from 2013 to 2015. The New Jersey Air National Guard Medical Teams trained and mentored Albanian medical forces on Basic/Advanced Lifesaving techniques and CASEVAC procedures. The EOD Airmen familiarized Albanian EOD forces on ammunition storage procedures, demolition operations, and EOD safety standards.

In 2015, New Jersey Air National Guard Tactical Air Control Party Airmen teamed up with New Jersey Soldiers and Albanian Soldiers as advisors for the Afghan National Army’s 1st Mobile Strike Force. The New Jersey Guard members and their Albanian counterparts participated in over one hundred combat missions in which they directly engaged enemy forces.

In 2020, a contingent of New Jersey Air and Army National Guard women visited Albania to celebrate Women’s History Month with their female service member counterparts.

The anniversary celebration included tours of various National Guard sites, a visit to West Point, meeting U.S. National Guard leadership in Washington, D.C., and a ceremony at the National Guard Training Center in Sea Girt on Sept. 21.

“I’m delighted and privileged as the Minister of Defense of Albania to attend this ceremony and to address the men and women in uniform in the New Jersey National Guard,” said Niko Peleshi. “Today, this is more meaningful than ever. While we mark the 20th anniversary of the cooperation between the New Jersey National Guard and the Albanian Armed Forces, it was exactly in 2001 when Albania signed the bilateral affairs agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense and the state of New Jersey; thus, officially establishing the State Partnership Program.”

Peleshi noted that the bond between New Jersey and Albania played a crucial role in the region.

“Over the years, we have worked together on a range of many shared goals, challenges, and priorities, including fighting terrorism, corruption, and strengthening the rule of law, democratization, European security, and expanding the trans-Atlantic bond,” said Peleshi. “I admire a great number of successes that we have achieved together, side by side, as brothers in arms. Albania and the Albanian people will forever be grateful to the United States of America for being our biggest and closest ally.”

U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Bradford R. Everman, Chief of Staff of the New Jersey Air National Guard, hosted the Albanian visitors on the last leg of their tour at the 108th Wing.

“It was incredibly rewarding to mark the anniversary of the State Partnership between Albania and New Jersey,” said Everman. “Reflecting on 20 years of cooperation in civil-military affairs, it is evident the partnership has proven beneficial to both sides. Discussions centered on the similarities and differences in our military culture and our economic and social spheres. A truly valued strategic partner, we hope the coming years of cooperation with Albania prove as fruitful as the previous two decades.”