KARADJORDJEVO, Serbia – A university administrator visiting this Balkan republic of 7.3 million people for the first time said Sunday that the National Guard is making a significant impact improving the nation’s relationship with the United States.
“The military in general and the National Guard in particular has been a leading force here in Serbia for United States-Serbian relations,” said Charles Wise, founding director of the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at the Ohio State University.
Wise is accompanying Army Maj. Gen. Gregory Wayt, the adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, and a delegation of more than two-dozen Ohio officers and noncommissioned officers on a visit here as part of the 62-nation National Guard State Partnership Program. Ohio has been paired with Serbia since 2006.
“They’ve established a very solid foundation in the military-to-military contact,” Wise said.
At a Friday meeting at Parliament in Belgrade, Serbian elected officials told Wayt, Wise and others in the Ohio delegation that they would like to see expanded civilian-to-civilian exchanges now that the SPP is flourishing.
“Obviously the Serbian people and the Serbian government have had to overcome some very, very wrenching changes,” Wise said Sunday as he made the 87-mile drive from Belgrade to the sprawling palace built for former Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito near this village.
“They seem to be on a very positive path: They’re modernizing their military, they’re changing their governmental policies to join the other countries of Europe on a path to economic development and to greater democracy,” he said. “They deserve all the help they can get from the democracies of the world.”
Wise said he has been struck by the assistance the National Guard State Partnership Program already has given to the Serbian military, especially in the area of noncommissioned officer development.
The Serbian military is transforming from a conscript to a professional force and growing its noncommissioned officer corps.
“The development of the NCO corps of the Serbian military is very key to being able to fashion a truly operational military,” Wise said, adding that he has observed close relationships between Ohio National Guard NCOs and their Serbian counterparts.
“It’s exactly the kind of personal interaction that you like to see that really leads to the depth of learning that has to occur for them to be able to transform this military.”
The John Glenn School of Public Affairs already assists Ukraine with a Parliamentary development program aimed at helping that nation build its democracy, and Wise is exploring opportunities to work with Serbia.
State partnerships are a two-way street that can benefit the state as much as the foreign nation, Wise said. The Ohio State University, for example, seeks to expand its international programs.
“The university has designated Eastern Europe as one of the areas of focus for the globalization of the university,” Wise said.
The foundation formed by Ohio’s SPP “could lead to exchanges back and forth in which professors and students are involved and study-abroad experiences,” Wise said.
“I’ve been extremely impressed with the contribution of the National Guard,” he said. “The more I’ve learned about [the SPP] the more I’ve been impressed by not only how effective it is but how cost-effective it is in building relationships with significant countries like Serbia.”
Wise has decades of public affairs and international development experience.
“The depth and breadth of activities that are engaged in here is really surprising,” he said. “The bang-for-the-buck that is being achieved here is something that really represents the United States well and gives value to the American taxpayer.
“If anything, as the United States goes forward, in undertaking the multiplicity of relationships that we have with so many countries … we have to do it in a cost-effective way – and I just can’t think of a more cost-effective way than something like the [SPP] to do that.”