PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea. — Wisconsin National Guard members traveled to Papua New Guinea to build relationships and share expertise with the Papua New Guinea Defense Force March 1-15 as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program which pairs American states with countries around the world.
Wisconsin National Guard leadership selected a dozen Soldiers to conduct civil disturbance and command and control training with the PNGDF in preparation to deploy in support of their upcoming national elections. The teams worked side-by-side with other NATO allies including the Australian Defense Force which has been supporting the pre-deployment mission since February.
Sgt. Gage Meyers, a military police officer with the Kenosha, Wisconsin-based 32nd Military Police Company, stated that the team from Wisconsin understands the core of the PNGDF’s mission because they each personally deployed to similar missions in the Badger State multiple times over the last two years.
“Our prior experience supporting local law enforcement in Wisconsin during periods of unrest helped us find common ground with our counterparts,” stated Meyers. “We were able to relate the training to shared experiences and real-world problems which gave us credibility.”
Lt. Col. Derrek Schultheiss, the Wisconsin National Guard’s State Partnership Program director, said that the team brought something to the table that is unique to the National Guard.
American active-duty forces are prohibited from responding to domestic civil unrest missions under the Posse Comitatus Act unless expressly authorized by law. The National Guard is generally the only component authorized to respond to domestic civil unrest in America, making it an ideal partner for militaries that share similar responsibilities such as the PNGDF and ADF.
Besides common ground between missions, the Wisconsin Guard shares a unique history with both the Australian and Papua New Guinean forces.
During World War II, the 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Division, which consisted of the Wisconsin National Guard and some of the Michigan National Guard, engaged in intense fighting alongside Australian and Papua New Guinea forces against the Japanese through multiple campaigns in Papua New Guinea. The Buna Campaign is often noted by historians as particularly brutal. The Red Arrow engaged in other major campaigns in Papua New Guinea, including in Saidor and Aitape. By war’s end, the Red Arrow had logged 654 days in combat – more than any other division in the war.
In contrast to each nation’s respective service in World War II, today’s troops are largely interested in peace-keeping and conflict de-escalation.
Cpl. Pieter Murtagh of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Australian Defense Force, explained during a training session how to set the tone during interactions with civilians on the PNGDF’s upcoming mission.
“This is the point that is going to set the tone,” Murtagh explained during training. “You want to walk up, use a loud voice, use a polite voice and normal conversation level.”
As Murtagh encouraged Soldiers to consider how they relate to the people they serve, Wisconsin National Guard members were looking for ways that they could serve the community that surrounded Taurama Barracks.
Sgt. 1st Class Kurt Ullenberg, initiated a relationship between a nearby school and his wife’s classroom in Wisconsin.
“Something that makes Guardsmen valuable in this program is our connections to our communities back home and our ability to connect with not just other Soldiers, but the communities that support those Soldiers,” stated Ullenberg.
Lt. Col. Aaron Freund, the Wisconsin National Guard’s state provost marshal, supervised the team and reflected on their impact as the visit came to a close.
“It is a lot bigger than the training here today,” stated Freund. “What we do here dictates how we are seen in the world.”
Lt. Col. Derrek Schultheiss stated that each interaction that happened through the partnership program is part of a much larger picture.
“We are building a relationship here even if it is just one tiny piece at a time,” he said. “Each person we brought here is helping plant those seeds and will have a huge impact even if it is not immediately apparent.”
Maj. General Mark Goina, Papua New Guinea’s chief of defense force, commented during a meeting between international partners and state officials on March 8, that he is very happy to see that this exchange is happening.
“I think that our countries share a lot of issues and I am very supportive of the program,” stated Goina. “I look forward to continuous engagement.”
The Wisconsin National Guard’s partnership with Papua New Guinea began in 2020, and it maintains another state partnership with Nicaragua dating to 2003.