Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

Soldiers of Vermont and Macedonia are more than just siblings in arms

The soldiers of Macedonia have an extreme drive to be the best they can be and as the Adjutant General of Vermont, I could not have asked for a better partner to have for the past twenty years. The soldiers of the Macedonian Security Forces, Military Police and Rangers showed incredible professionalism and their hard work in training for, and ultimately executing the mission in Afghanistan is what we were able to recognize

Speaking highly of the preparedness and professionalism of Macedonian Army soldiers, the Adjutant General of Vermont National Guard, Steven Cray, in an exclusive interview with “Republika”, comments on the partnership and successful joint missions with the American soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as on the new challenges and cooperation plans. During his several day visit to Macedonia, Major General Cray exchanged acquired experiences of the missions led by NATO, EU and UN. He also discussed Macedonian Army participation in the new NATO mission to Afghanistan, dubbed “Resolute Support”.

General Cray, what is your challenge in developing and maintaining a strong relationship with the ARM?

Cray: In my opinion, the greatest challenge is being able to fit in all the engagements that we would like to.  The Army of the Republic of Macedonia and the Vermont National Guard have a lot to offer to each other.  We have a storied history together and we have engaged in over 200 training events on both sides of the Atlantic.  We have come a long way with our partnership and we need to maintain our relevance in a constantly changing and challenging environment.

You know Macedonian soldiers very well who took participation in missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. How do these deployments illustrate the partnership and capabilities of the ARM?

Cray: The soldiers of Macedonia have an extreme drive to be the best they can be and as the Adjutant General of Vermont, I could not have asked for a better partner to have for the past twenty years.  Our partnership is very strong and the soldiers of Vermont and Macedonia are extremely capable, professional and take every opportunity to learn from one another.  They are truly brothers and sisters in arms. Macedonian soldiers performed their duties with professionalism and are extremely capable and Vermont soldiers, in turn, have learned from the Macedonians and the Macedonians have learned from the Vermonters. That is one of the strengths of the program…we learn from one another and we are dedicated to excellence and professionalism.

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How does the close relationship between ARM and VTNG members influence the future of the United States and Macedonia relationship? 

Cray: The relationship that Vermont and Macedonia share is very unique in that we are not only brothers and sister in arms but we are also friends.  That friendship means a lot to us on multiple levels.  As I said previously, we are dedicated to bringing out the best in one another and continuing the cooperation that we have had for over two decades.  The dedication to, not only our cooperative engagements, but also to our friendships, leads me to believe that Vermont and Macedonia will continue to have a strong relationship in the future.

Are there any specific moments that you remember or would like to emphasize from our co-deployment in Phoenix mission in Afghanistan and was this deployment also an opportunity for US soldiers to learn something from their Macedonian colleagues?

Cray: Our joint mission in Afghanistan was unique in many aspects.  Although we had years of experience in our partnership, we had to adjust and learn from each other in various areas. As a member of the Air National Guard at that time, I wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to be with the Army in Afghanistan.  I know there were plenty of stories when our soldiers returned and it was a great opportunity for our brothers and sisters in arms to work together and to overcome many difficulties together and to share in success together.  From my deployment experience, I know you can’t deploy without learning something from your partners and I believe that our Guardsmen took the opportunity to learn from their Macedonian counterparts.  That kind of diversity is advantageous to everyone especially in an austere environment.  Soldiers need to learn quickly to communicate and work together to overcome language and cultural barriers.  I know that the Ajvar recipe was a favorite among US soldiers and other Macedonian specialties were on the bases where Macedonians and US soldiers worked together.

More than 60 Macedonian soldiers have been decorated from US Armed forces for their heroic acts in NATO lead missions. On the other hand it is well known that it is very hard to earn these kind of recognitions, especially when we are talking for a none US troops. What a soldier needs to do to earn recognition like this?

Cray: I was fortunate enough to hand out medals last year when I was here.  Recognizing troops for their dedication to the mission, their excellence in professionalism, and their work in the field is one of my favorite jobs as Adjutant General.  A soldier needs to do all those things and the recognition is going to follow.  Soldiers need to put in long hours of training, commitment and have military discipline to lead to successful missions.  The soldiers of the Macedonian Security Forces, Military Police and Rangers showed incredible professionalism and their hard work in training for, and ultimately executing the mission in Afghanistan is what we were able to recognize.

How satisfied are you from the current level of cooperation?

Cray: I am very satisfied with the current level of cooperation that Vermont and Macedonia share.  I think there is always room for improvement, but we look at the partnership together and when there are areas of improvement, we find a way forward together as one team.  Annually, we conduct more than ten engagements together and we expose a large number of Vermont and Macedonian soldiers to various environments.  We are constantly exploring new areas of engagement and improving current areas to be able to adapt to the changing environment that our soldiers may find themselves in. I can’t point out any one thing at this time that needs improvement, and maybe that is because we recognize challenges together and immediately work to fix things together.  That is the strength of our partnership.  You can’t be afraid of pointing things out to each other and then work together to resolve points that make each other better.

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In which direction will go the future cooperation between ARM and US and what exactly the Tri0lateral partnership means?

Cray: The Army of the Republic of Macedonia and the Vermont National Guard have an enduring relationship and our cooperation can only expand.  The tri-lateral engagement is a way to explore the relationship between Senegal and Macedonia as shared opportunities for training become available.

In which direction will the cooperation with the Emergency Response Management Team go and in which areas?

Cray: The Emergency Management team that is here this week is conducting a follow up event to the engagements that the governments of Vermont and Macedonia have been working toward since 2009.  This is a senior leadership visit of officials from the State of Vermont who can share lessons learned from their level can collaborate with officials here in Macedonia.

Your predecessor, LTG Dubie considered Macedonia as his second homeland. From these areas he took back to Vermont two very distinctive dogs from “Sharplaninec” breed and was proud to cooperate with soldiers that he could consider more than just military partners. What are the key things that Macedonia and ARM can remember MG Cray for?

Cray: As the Adjutant General, I am committed to this partnership to strengthen, not only our professional relationships, but or friendships as well.  I am very committed to our partnership and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead for both Macedonia and Vermont.

What was most memorable to you after your first visit to Macedonia as a TAG, last year? Maybe that our architecture, history, our culture, our monuments, natural beauties, the food or maybe you need more time to better discover it?

Cray: I have to say that from the very moment I arrived last year I noticed that the people of Macedonia are extremely hospitable and are very excited about their culture and history.  You can’t help but be excited about that too.  There is so much pride in the people that it is infectious.  Everywhere I go, people are willing to share with you their knowledge of the area, or their knowledge of the history and seem to genuinely enjoy sharing that and I love hearing about it.  I also find that the wine in Macedonia is a point of pride and I have to say, it is very good.

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By: Nenad Mircevski

Photo: A. Ivanovski