“I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just fun, so exciting. You meet people from different countries, different organizations, from the U.S. South Command, NGOs involved in these countries – there are so many touch points,” says Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Derrek A. Schultheiss, about his work as the Director of the Wisconsin National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP). He adds, “every day is interesting, new, and diverse.”
The State Partnership Program, launched in 1993 by the Pentagon and funded and facilitated by the State Department, creates constructive, mutually beneficial relationships between state National Guards and countries around the world. The program encourages people-to-people ties at the state level and there are now 89 programs with nations around the globe.
The Wisconsin National Guard has two partnerships, one with Nicaragua that launched in 2003 and a new partnership with Papua New Guinea as of 2020. The focus of the relationships is on sharing best practices and learning lessons on issues of natural disaster responses and human rights.
Through the Department of State’s and USAID’s Denton Program, the Wisconsin National Guard has been delivering humanitarian cargo to Nicaragua including firetrucks and small business supplies such as sewing machines as a part of community-based training programs creating opportunities for skill and trade development.
Stevens Point, WI, a town of about 26,000 people in the center of Wisconsin, is home base for shipments made through the Denton Program, largely supported by Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners of the Americas, Inc., a non-governmental organization established in 1965 under President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Alliance for Progress program. The Wisconsin National Guard is a key point of contact with the Nicaraguan people since the suspension of direct military-to-military exchanges between U.S. and Nicaraguan troops due to humanitarian rights violations.
Second Lieutenant Michelle Tadych, the SPP Coordinator and the Women, Peace, and Security Gender Advisor, will take her first trip abroad to Nicaragua this summer to help transition the Bilateral Affairs Officer working out of the U.S. embassy in Nicaragua, who helps facilitate the shipments as a part of the Wisconsin National Guard’s SPP. While Tadych considers Wisconsin “the best place to live,” she is looking forward to seeing the program in action and exploring a new country and culture.
In the spring of 2021, Tadych led virtual relationship building meetings “to determine where the Wisconsin National Guard fits in with goals of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force” and “how we can help each other,” including efforts to enhance gender equality.
“We are all going through this process for gender equality, we are just at a different point in our growth. We are working on these issues in America. We take so much for granted here, the stuff we see as routine is not necessarily routine in other countries,” says Tadych.
Tadych helps facilitate exchanges between subject matter experts and the partner nations to address challenges females face in the military such as postpartum parental leave, duty restrictions while pregnant, and how support for pregnant women in the military affects retention and career progression and how to build systems to overcome those challenges.
Several members of the Wisconsin National Guard are members of the Wisconsin Advisory Committee Member of the U.S. Global Leader Coalition.