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NEWS | Sept. 19, 2011

Alaska Guard members travel to Mongolia for SPP exchange

By Staff Sgt. Karima Turner Alaska National Guard

ULAANBATAAR, Mongolia - A team of Alaska National Guardsmen traveled here to participate in a Hazardous Materials exchange as part of the Alaska State Partnership program Sept. 12 to 15.

Two Soldiers and two Airmen spent four days working with members of the National Emergency Management Agency of Mongolia, exchanging HAZMAT response tactics, techniques, and procedures in hope of expanding each country's knowledge base.

"The face to face interaction between the Mongolian first responders and us has been integral in furthering our relationship with them and for discussing how we can help each other in the future," said Army 1st. Sgt. Erik Schlemme, with the Alaska National Guard's 297th Cavalry Reconnaissance & Surveillance.

"Operating in an austere environment, the Mongolians have done several real world responses that I think we can learn from, such as their mine and radiation remediation. With very little overhead and little equipment, they've managed to do quite a bit."

The subject matter expert team shared experiences from natural disasters they had responded to such as flooding, hurricanes, and forest fires, as well as responding to man-made response-required incidents like methamphetamine laboratories. 

Often times, cultural differences can be a challenge when working with different countries, but the Guard members and the Mongolians had few challenges because each understands the basis for response is to preserve human life and mitigate loss.

"The most interesting aspect is seeing the cultural differences and how those really affect the responders and their attitudes toward the civilian populous that they serve," said Air Force Master Sgt. Kristian Mauk, senior operations non-commissioned officer, for the Alaska National Guard's Joint Forces Headquarters.

"There are many similarities between Alaska and Mongolia. Most of the Mongolian inhabitants aren't directly in the city, they are in rural areas, so a lot of the incidents NEMA responds to involve long commutes or travel by aircraft," she said. "In that respect they are very similar to Alaska, and because of our similarities we are able to draw off of each other's experiences and use them to better our respective response teams."

 The Guard members and the NEMA responders learned a great deal from the exchange and left with an abundance of knowledge that will allow each country to respond better in the future.

"It's extremely important to continue to participate in more exchanges like this one," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nina Kolyvanova, survey team chief with Alaska National Guard's Joint Forces Headquarters. "We have the same goal and that is preservation of human life, by exchanging information and doing joint training we can better prepare to respond to any disaster that we may encounter."



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