Wisconsin National Guard Selects PNG Defense Force For State Partnership Program

As part of the U.S. Embassy’s commitment to strengthening the security partnership between the United States and Papua New Guinea, U.S. Ambassador to Solomon Islands, Erin Elizabeth McKee, announced on Saturday July 18, 2020, that the Wisconsin National Guard was selected to begin a new state partnership with Papua New Guinea as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

“My first priority is to deepen our security partnership by increasing cooperation with the government,” said Ambassador McKee.  “The State Partnership Program is a step in that direction and will forge lasting cooperation, friendship, and a mutually beneficial relationship with Papua New Guinea.”

WWII photographs of the 32nd Division in Buna, Popondetta. Supplied by the U.S. Army Signal Corps collection at that National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

The State Partnership Program began more than 25 years ago and now includes partnerships with more than 80 nations around the globe.  Through the program, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.  The partnership program creates a relationship in which states work with countries on a variety of levels via exchanges, shared knowledge, and resources.

“The Wisconsin National Guard’s new partnership with Papua New Guinea represents a wonderful opportunity for our state to forge a new mutually beneficial relationship and build global connection,” Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said. “Our Wisconsin National Guard is a tremendously professional force, and we look forward to many years of engagement with Papua New Guinea and the lessons and experiences we can exchange to benefit both their military forces and our own National Guard troops.  I applaud the many Soldiers and Airmen in the organization who worked diligently through the application process to bring this partnership to fruition.”

The Wisconsin National Guard consists of nearly 10,000 Soldiers and Airmen, and it represents a force with significant international and domestic experience.  More than 24,000 Wisconsin Guard members have deployed in support of overseas operations since September 11, 2001, and they have trained, fought, and advised in 28 countries since 2000.  Simultaneously, the Wisconsin National Guard continues to answer the state’s call during natural and man-made emergencies such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes, civil disturbances, and other emergencies.

“We are honored to be partnering with the Wisconsin National Guard,” said Major General Gilbert Toropo, commander of the PNG Defense Force.  “PNG already has an incredible legacy with their ‘Red Arrow’ division and we look forward to re-engaging with them to build our capacity and readiness.”

During World War Two, troops from the Wisconsin National Guard’s famous 32nd “Red Arrow” Division earned accolades as it fought multiple brutal campaigns through Japanese-occupied New Guinea en route to spending 654 days in combat – more than any other division in the war.  Red Arrow operations in New Guinea between 1942 and 1944 were highlighted by the liberation of Buna, the amphibious landing at Saidor, and the Battle of Madang.  The Red Arrow – then made up of Soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin – suffered thousands of casualties in New Guinea before operations concluded successfully and moved to the Philippines and ultimately to mainland Japan shortly after the war.

Four Red Arrow Soldiers, three of which were Wisconsinites, earned the Medal of Honor for their actions in New Guinea during World War II – all posthumously.  That legacy continues today in the form of the Wisconsin National Guard’s 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Brigade Combat Team.