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US Major General Martin Umbarger, a friend to Slovakia

MAJOR General Martin Roy Umbarger, commander of the US National Guard in Indiana and since September 26 an honorary citizen of Bratislava, discussed his career and his 15-year involvement with Slovakia’s armed forces by praising the changes the Slovak Army has undergone and stating that its current operations mark a high point in the army’s history.

MAJOR General Martin Roy Umbarger, commander of the US National Guard in Indiana and since September 26 an honorary citizen of Bratislava, discussed his career and his 15-year involvement with Slovakia’s armed forces by praising the changes the Slovak Army has undergone and stating that its current operations mark a high point in the army’s history.

After receiving his citizenship from Bratislava Mayor Milan Ftáčnik, the major general affirmed his great pleasure and pride in the cooperation between the Indiana National Guard and the Slovak Army. This cooperation began in 1994, a decade before Slovakia’s 2004 entry into NATO. The major general’s own involvement in the relationship started two years later, in 1996, when he visited Slovakia for the first time. He recalls being struck on this occasion by vivid first impressions of the Slovak Armed Forces, seeing a huge, old-fashioned army, with almost no professional non-commissioned officers working alongside officers and military servicemen.

He witnessed the changes the Slovak forces underwent over the next few years as it became more professional, enlisted more women, and participated in military actions abroad. Together, Umbarger averred, these changes constituted a great leap forward.

The current period, he added, marks a high point in the achievements of the Slovak Army. He singled out the ISAF operation in Afghanistan as an example of a mixed team of Slovak soldiers and the National Guard.

Under the command of Slovak officers, the team partakes in the training of Afghan soldiers. This work is crucial to help the Afghan government and its security forces gradually take over security for their country without the need for assistance from ISAF soldiers, Umbarger stressed. In this context Umbarger stated his appreciation for the excellent cooperation he has enjoyed with the outgoing chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Ľubomír Bulík. Umbarger praised Bulík’s staff for doing a superb job in spite of downsizing and budget reductions. He also praised Slovak soldiers.

In a meeting on September 23, Defence Minister Ľubomír Galko and Umbarger agreed that the Indiana National Guard and the Slovak Armed Forces would help each other to continually improve. As one possible field of cooperation, Galko stated that “we would like to continue the activity of jointly training teams within the ISAF operation into the future.”

Umbarger has been wearing the National Guard uniform since 1969, when he joined as a private. He gradually worked his way through the ranks, assuming command of the Indiana National Guard in 2004. He is married, with two daughters, a son, and five grandchildren. He stated that he and his fellow soldiers in the Indiana National Guard are proud of their cultural heritage, their country, community and family – these are the values US soldiers fight to protect and preserve.


The US state of Indiana has about 6.3 million residents and its National Guard comprises more than 14,700 soldiers and as many as 600 employees. Less than 13,000 guard members are in the army; the rest are air force personnel. Only a small core of officers and non-commissioned officers are professionals; the rest are volunteers who also have civilian jobs.

Apart from military training, members of the National Guard are summoned in the event of natural disasters, industrial accidents, and so on. They are also deployed in military operations abroad such as in Kosovo, Kenya and Afghanistan.

By Pavol Vitko, editor of the military magazine Obrana

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