A National Guard unit will take the helm for the first time during one of the Army’s Pacific Pathways exercises in 2018.

The exercise, which is conducted three times a year, sends a unit through a training pathway, where it normally spends three to four months in a series of exercises with foreign militaries.

Active-duty units usually lead the exercises, but the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will lead one rotation in 2018 fresh off a rotation at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Louisiana.

“[The brigade will be] coming through the Pacific at their highest rate of readiness,” Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army Pacific, told Army Times. “And then demonstrating that they, too, can get where they need to go in a timely manner and can be in the region and truly be expeditionary.”

Putting a Guard unit in the lead does present some challenges, Brown said.

An active-duty unit can train for three months straight, but that’s a little more difficult in this case.

“There’s always a balancing act with the Guard,” he said. “They have full-time jobs.”

The Guard unit might be gone for three or four weeks at a time instead of three or four months, for example. The Army is still working out the details, including which events are chosen and where they’re going to train.

Even with the challenges, Brown said it’s important to give key National Guard elements the same opportunities as active units.

“Anything we do in the Pacific, we always have National Guard divisions involved, so it gives them a credible familiarity with the region,” he said.

The Guard also offers unique experience through the State Partnership Program, which links a state’s National Guard with an equivalent partner in another country.

“For example, you’ll have an Oregon National Guard general officer who will have been partnered with Vietnam for 20-plus years,” Brown said. “So, they bring tremendous relationships that the active component can’t match.”