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N.J. Soldiers train in Albania
TAG at Operation Jump Start

The National Guard State Partnership Program offers civilian- military expertise to foster democracy, encourage economic development and promote regional cooperation and stability. To the Albanians, the State Partnership Program with New Jersey is an opportunity for their military to contribute to coalition operations throughout the region and to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. ZALLHERR, Albania - Long before the State Partnership Program was created, President Woodrow Wilson, a New Jerseyan, stepped forward after World War I to aid Albania.

During the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson fought against partitioning Albania, allowing the country to remain a separate, sovereign nation. This summer, 88 years later, New Jersey is again supporting Albania – this time with a platoon of Soldiers from Alpha Company, 2-113th Infantry Battalion, to provide Albania the means toward inclusion as a member of NATO.

This Unit Level Exchange is the first military exercise of its kind in Albania. It was requested by the Albanian Armed Forces Joint Forces commander, funded by United States Army Europe, organized by the Embassy’s Office of Defense Cooperation and supported by the New Jersey Army National Guard. The infantry tactics shared with the Ready Reaction Brigade will go a long way toward their desire to become a member of NATO and ultimately of the European Union.

“Albania anticipates an invitation into NATO sometime in 2008,” said Capt. Dennis Stiles, Alpha Company Commander. “Cobra Company has recently successfully participated in a NATO level one self-evaluation and our hope is to build upon that success.” One platoon from each of the respective companies was integrated to form the single training platoon. Buddy teams of one Albanian Soldier and one Guard infantryman share the responsibilities within the infantry’s mission-essential task of ‘movement to contact.’ Beginning with basic skills of map reading and building toward higher technologies like GPS and night vision systems, the combined platoon progressed through the crawl and walk phases toward the keystone exercise in the field. The ultimate goal is integrated operations such as those in Afghanistan with NATO and allied troops.

“We are in the midst of building the Second Battalion; this is to empower the NCOs, build a future for NCOs’ careers and I believe that the army can not be as strong as it should be without strong NCOs,” said Lt. Col. Bardhwl Kollcaku. “Our NCOs are working closely with (the U.S. NCOs) and I think it is best to give them the authority to be in charge of training.” The conditions were extreme; early morning starts, afternoon highs reaching 110 degrees, and with minimal downtime. Albania is a rugged and beautiful country and the eastern horizon a jagged spine of granite mountains. It was in the foothills of this region where the three-day field training exercise would showcase the knowledge and skills the combined platoon worked so hard to earn.

“Movement to Contact is the tool we will use to train their junior NCOs, the team leaders and the squad leaders, where the rubber meets the road. Out there on the lanes is where Soldiers are talking to Soldiers, breaching the language barriers, coming together – working as one team,” said Stiles. Capt. Kastriot Cera, Cobra Company Commander, plans to maximize the impact of this training. “Our experience will be shared not only inside my company, but within the battalion and inside the brigade,” he explained. His soldiers will be the instructors for future training within the Albanian army, and more importantly will become the leading edge of Albania’s deployed forces in the Global War on Terrorism. For three days, 24 hours a day, two squad leaders were acting as one, two riflemen were acting as one, and while they shared the infantry specific tactics and procedures, the more beneficial cultural understanding and friendships began to evolve. Ruck marching from patrol base to objective, up and down the foothills, the relationships were forged through physical effort and have laid the foundation for future ULEs.

With each successive rotation, the New Jersey connection to Albania grows stronger and President Wilson would surely be pleased with the N.J. Army Guard’s role in it.

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Volume 33 Number 3 Staff / Information
(c) 2007 NJ Department of Military and Veterans Affairs