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Story and photos by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, 177th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Albanian Armed Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Proletar Panxha, left, translates as an Albanian Air Force firefighter talks about the capabilities of the Farke Air Base firefighting equipment with New Jersey Air National Guard members, State Command Chief Master Sgt. Michael Francis, second from left, Joint Force Headquarters – New Jersey and 177th Fighter Wing Fire Chief Master Sgt. Anthony Boccelli, second from right.

Through the State Partnership Program, New Jersey's Citizen Airmen and Soldiers have travelled to the Republic of Albania to train their counterparts. In turn, Albania has sent Soldiers and Airmen to New Jersey to receive specialized training.

Lt. Col. Richard Reitberger and State Command Chief Master Sgt. Michael Francis, Joint Force Headquarters – Air and Master Sgt. Anthony Boccelli, a Fire Chief with the 177th Fighter Wing, visited Albania in September 19-23, 2010.

"The State Partnership Program is an exchange of ideas among equals and will continue to be a benefit for both Albania and New Jersey," said Reitberger.

The mission's focus was on joint Air Guard – Albanian Armed Forces training, combined officer/NCO training and wildfire prevention – an issue important to arid Albania.

The Air Guard team met with Col. Arqile Kokedhima and Lt. Col. Halil Kucama, commanders of the Training and Doctrine Command and the Noncommissioned Officer Academy respectively. Providing the Albanian input on overall NCO training was Albanian Armed Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Proletar Panxha.

Discussion centered on education, the possibility of New Jersey sending over instructors and combined training for officers and NCOs at the schoolhouse. The Air Guard contingent toured the schoolhouse during which, Reitberger addressed a classroom of newly minted NCOs.

Driving to Tirana International Airport, the team met with Rinas Air Base commander Col. Raqi Qarri whom Boccelli presented a binder of materials that he had prepared based on his experiences preventing and combating wildfires.

The Jersey Guardsmen then drove to Farke Air Base, where they met with base commander Col. Frederik Beltoja who proudly showed off the newly completed control tower and fire station, as well as the new construction at the base.

The next day Reitberger and Boccelli attended wildfire meetings at the Interior Ministry while Francis traveled with Panxha to Kucova Air Base to meet with the base commander Col. Flamur Hoxha who spoke about his wildfire concerns and how they could impact the base's mission.

While some of the equipment at the base was not as modern as that found in New Jersey, the runway easily rivaled its American counterparts in length and size.

Despite the visit's short duration, the team was able to identify numerous potential unit and individual training missions, as well as other needs that the Office of Defense Cooperation and possibly New Jersey might be able to address.

Albanian Armed Forces Sgt. Gezim Hoxha, left standing, discusses the NCO class's curriculum at the NCO Academy with, right to left, Albanian Armed Forces Command Sgt. Maj. Proletar Panxha, Lt. Col. Richard Reitberger and State Command Chief Master Sgt. Michael R. Francis.

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Volume 35 Number 2 Staff / Information
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