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Albanians train at Drum
TAG at Operation Jump Start

Practicing the age-old adage that “one good turn deserves another,” the 50th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) of the New Jersey National Guard hosted members of the Albanian Army during the brigade’s Annual Training at Fort Drum, N.Y. In July, Albania hosted members of the 50th IBCT’s, Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry for training during Phase I of a Unit Level Exchange (ULE) program. This is part of the ongoing bilateral relationship that the New Jersey National Guard has with the republic of Albania, which is part of the State Partnership Program, sponsored by the National Guard Bureau and European Command.

“I’m here with one platoon of my company for accomplishing the second phase of the Unit Level Exchange,” says Capt. Kastriot Cera, commander of Cobra Company, 2nd Battalion, Rapid Reaction Brigade, Albanian Army. “We are here to gain experience from the U.S. Army.” Reminiscent of what the U.S. Army refers to as ‘Train the Trainer,’ Cera will take the knowledge he and his soldiers learn back to Albania with him.

“This experience will be shared, not only inside my company, but inside my battalion, and inside my Rapid Reaction Brigade, so it will be expanded, not just inside the platoon and company, but wider,” Cera notes. Phase I consisted of squad tactics centered on Movementto- Contact training in a wooded environment in the hilly countryside of Albania. Here in Phase II at Fort Drum, members of Cobra Company will train together with Soldiers from Alpha Company at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) site at Training Area 13 Alpha, something the Albanians haven’t had much experience with, according to Cera. “The MOUT operation range is really great,” says Cera, whose company will deploy to Afghanistan sometime next year. “I myself will give this idea to the higher command. We really will get a lot from this range during this operation.” While Jersey Guard members were busy explaining MOUT tactics to Cobra Company, they were not there to train them in the traditional sense.

“Integrated Operations with Allied Forces are really the goal of the Rapid Reaction Brigade,” explains Capt. Dennis Stiles, of Bravo Company, 2-113th Infantry, and the project officer for the ULE. “We are not necessarily here to teach them specifically anything, but to familiarize them with how allied forces would operate.” This is an important goal for the Republic of Albania, which is looking to join NATO sometime in the next 18 months.

As with any multinational operation, there are ups and downs during the execution of training, and this operation is no different according to Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Ropel of Alpha Company, 2-113th, who is supervising the training at the MOUT site.

“I think the major problem is the language barrier, which we are actually trying to resolve from every level possible — use of interpreters, use of sign language, and everything else that we can come up with.”

Ropel, who spent some of his active-duty time as a member of the 10th Mountain Division here at Fort Drum, does note the good side to the training “They’re very well-trained soldiers. They have good knowledge about basics, about our NATO techniques as well and they are using them.” And while training at the MOUT site is initiated by members of the 2-113th Infantry, Soldiers from both countries can benefit from the cross-pollination of tactics and techniques and the preparation that comes with it.

“It makes training more demanding, it puts much more demands on the Soldier,” says Ropel. “It demands that our Soldiers be much more professional, to pay much more attention to details, and also develop both [countries’] Soldiers at the same time.”

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