CAMP GRAYLING, Mich. - There is more than one way to open a door.
Soldiers from the Ohio Army National Guard's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, showed their counterparts in the Serbian 63rd Parachutist Battalion just that June 14 while conducting joint demolitions training here at Camp Grayling, a National Guard joint maneuver training center in northern Michigan.
The two countries' elite troops were training together for the second time through a unit-level exchange with the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, which teams National Guard states with developing democracies throughout the world, to build long-term relationships and foster trust and cooperation between countries.
Their first exchange was conducted nine months prior in Nis, Serbia, as the two countries celebrated their first-year anniversary of military cooperation.
"The relationships that have been established have gone beyond me and General Ponos (Lt. Gen. Zdravko Ponoš, chief of Serbian Armed Forces)," said Maj. Gen. Gregory L. Wayt, Ohio's adjutant general. "Members of our staffs have built personal relationships and maintain contact via email. Members of the 63rd Parachutist Battalion and our Bravo Company 2-19 are building relationships. This partnership just keeps getting stronger."
The June exchanges here at Camp Grayling and Columbus, Ohio, as with the September 2007 exchange, involved several contingents, this one also including training and operations personnel as well as public affairs teams.
Training and operations
The focus of the training delegation during the visit was a general officer and sergeant major orientation, Wayt said. The delegation traveled with Wayt to Fort McCoy, Wis., where the Ohio Army National Guard's 371st Sustainment Brigade had been training for the previous two months as they prepared to deploy to Iraq to support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"We wanted to show them the post-mobilization training concept, plus how officers and noncommissioned officers prepare units for deployment," Wayt said.
The delegation then came here to Camp Grayling to see the pre-mobilization training of units readying for possible deployment in the 2009 training year.
"We took them to Grayling so they could observe how our NCOs run the training," Wayt said. "We also had our employer orientation at Grayling and they were able to see how we reach out to and educate the employers about our Citizen-Soldiers, and how important they are in supporting the National Guard."
One chief goal for Ponoš is to transform the Serbian noncommissioned officer corps, Wayt said. And on this trip, Maj. Gen. Petar Cornakov, chief of training and doctrine for the Serbian Armed Forces, was particularly interested in observing the role of U.S. noncommissioned officers in training environments.
"The Serbs are spending a lot of time and effort in building their NCO corps," said Col. Jerry Rees, director of joint operations for the Ohio National Guard. "Maj. Gen. Cornakov is leading the effort."
Part of that effort has involved studying the structure and function of several foreign militaries, as well as sending Serbian troops to other countries' noncommissioned officer academies, including Ohio's 147th Regiment, Regional Training Institute. A group of about a dozen Serbian and Hungarian noncommissioned officers attended and graduated from the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course and Total Army Instructor Training Course at the Columbus-based 147th this past April.
"Part of the process of establishing their NCO corps is gaining an understanding of how we utilize NCOs as an integral part of the combat force," Rees said. "In general, our NCOs train the force (but) we can have Pfcs. training officers, we try to use the most qualified person, regardless of rank.
"Visiting our training sites and attending our NCO academies really allows them to visualize what we do. One of their NCOs even went back from BNCOC and implemented in his brigade what he'd seen and learned here," Rees added.
The Serbian delegation also spent time with their Ohio National Guard counterparts, including Rees, to finalize preparations for a planned Ohio National Guard visit to Belgrade in September 2008 for a large-scale joint operations exercise focused on military support to civil authorities.
The training scenario will revolve around a flood, a situation with which the Ohio National Guard has much experience, assisting with Ohio flood relief operations nearly every year.
Col. Milan Mojsilovic, deputy commander for the Serbian Armed Forces Joint Operations Command, and Col. Alfred C. Faber, chief of the joint staff for the Ohio National Guard, will co-direct the integrated exercise, which will involve more than 50 officers, about 25 from each country's military, said Rees, who traveled to Serbia in early June to begin coordination for the five-day exercise.
This will be the first time a state's Joint Force Headquarters has conducted an exercise of this magnitude with a partner country.
The chief of the public relations department in the Serbian Ministry of Defense, Navy Capt. Petar Boskovic, and members of his staff, along with the chief of the Public Relations Department for the Serbian Armed Forces general staff, Lt. Col. Robert Sreckovic, arrived in Columbus late in the evening June 8 for a weeklong program with the Ohio National Guard's public affairs staff.
Dr. Mark Wayda, the Ohio National Guard's director of government and public affairs, and Mr. James A. Sims II, the principal deputy for public affairs, had visited the Serbian Defense Ministry's Public Relations Department in September 2007 to lay some of the groundwork for this visit.
"Petar and I talked last September about moving beyond familiarization and establishing training and operational relations between his department and our public affairs office," Wayda said. "The agenda for this visit was established with that goal in mind."
The program began with a full day dedicated to the role of public affairs in the broader, statewide response to natural disasters or other such events. In coordination with the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (OEMA), the State Public Affairs Office provided a detailed introduction to the process by which the state responds to natural or man-made disasters, how public affairs operates in the response environment and specifically how the National Guard and its public affairs operations function in a coordinated manner as part of the larger response.
In the afternoon, with the assistance of public information officers from the Ohio Department of Health, Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Ohio Department of Public Safety and the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation & Developmental Disabilities, OEMA and the state public affairs office hosted a joint information center (JIC) exercise in which members of the Serbian delegation paired with Ohio public information officers to perform the various communications functions within the JIC.
The exercise was based on the September 2004 flooding in six counties in southeast Ohio, a scenario that was also familiar to the Serbian delegation because of flooding events in their own country.
The agenda for the next several days provided opportunities for the delegations to share information about the environments in which they work, the challenges they face and the opportunities they have to work together to further enhance mission success. At the end of the week, the Serbian delegation boarded an Ohio National Guard aircraft and flew to Camp Grayling to cover the joint training being conducted by Ohio's Special Forces and Serbia's 63rd Parachutist Battalion.
"Our goals are essentially the same, to tell the organizational story, to ensure that the public knows us and trusts us and to generate support for our members and their families," Wayda said.
"Public relations has a key role in establishing a transparent and open defense system," Boskovic said. "Achieving full transparency in the work of Ministry of Defense (MoD) and Serbian Armed Forces (SAF) is one of the basic working principles of the MoD and general staff. The task of the PR Department is to enable quality, timely and objective informing of all target groups about the MoD and SAF. By informing the internal and external public about the main issues of the MoD and the SAF, the Public Relations Department contributes to achieving greater understanding of the work of the MoD and the general staff. That is how we see the way of getting support and understanding for what we do."
Elite troops train, learn
While the June 14 Special Forces training consisted of door-breaching techniques using various forms and amounts of explosives, the troops conducted additional training throughout the week that focused on mission planning and weapons' familiarization. The training culminated in a joint airborne operation.
About 25 U.S. and Serbian troops completed two jumps from an Ohio National Guard CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter June 18 here at the Grayling Army Airfield. The U.S. troops had already trained on Serbian airborne techniques when they conducted a jump together during the September exchange. During this jump and the training leading up to it, Serbian Soldiers were exposed to U.S. military airborne training methods, which they learned differs significantly from their own.
Serbian Soldiers jump out of the aircraft head first, while U.S. paratroopers jump feet first. Also, aircraft speed is generally faster during Serbian airborne operations, said Lt. Col. Danijel Stojkovic, chief operations officer for the 63rd.
While the troops used the training, particularly the airborne operation, as an opportunity to learn from one another, it also served another purpose.
"It builds camaraderie, and it builds rapport," said Sgt. 1st Class Dustin (due to the sensitive nature of Special Forces' Soldiers work, only first names will be used) of Company B. "It allows these countries to work together."
Soldiers from both countries said they benefited from the joint training and have increased partnership between the countries. They also both agree that there is still room to grow.
"They are very good guys," Stojkovic said referring to the Company B Soldiers. "They are well skilled, well trained and know exactly what to do in any situation. I am looking forward to continuing our cooperation on a higher level. I believe the next step will be even better and increase our cooperation."