- Sasha Goldstein
- Macedonian defense minister Radmila Šekerinska
An interesting scene played out at Camp Johnson in Colchester on Monday afternoon.
Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, stepped to a podium in front of journalists and uniformed soldiers to introduce Radmila Šekerinska, the defense minister of Macedonia.
Turns out the Green Mountain State and Macedonia, a former Yugoslav state in the Balkans, paired up in 1993 as part of the State Partnership Program, which was created to build cooperation with Eastern European countries after the fall of the Soviet Union. Thousands of Vermont soldiers and Macedonian troops have since participated in exchange programs, military exercises, disaster management training and engineering projects, according to Cray.
A contingent of about 80 Macedonian personnel deployed to Afghanistan with a Vermont National Guard brigade in 2010.
This visit had a more political agenda. After chatting with Vermont Gov. Phil Scott about climate change on Monday, Šekerinska was heading to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Macedonia is seeking American support for its bid to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization ahead of a July NATO summit in Brussels. All it takes is one veto to derail the process, and Greece voted "nay" in 2008 because of a simmering dispute over the name "Macedonia," which is also the name of a region in Greece.
Perhaps playing to her audience Monday, Šekerinska pointed to the 24-year-old State Partnership Program as a sign of Macedonia's dedication to the NATO cause.
"We do believe that, having in mind that 7,000 of our military personnel have benefited from this partnership shows how much Vermont has shaped our military forces," she said. "We have shown that this partnership is not just a nice way for people to meet, but that this contributes to the power and the capability of both the National Guard and the army of Macedonia."