CENTENNIAL, Colo. - Jordan News Agency (Petra) reported earlier this month that Jordan's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat said to Jordanian army officers: "We have to realize that our country is targeted, and therefore, we are required to deny those willing to tamper with Jordan's security and stability."
Jordan's security depends heavily on its capacity to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related materials across its borders and to counter such threats from within.
Now, eight Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers have received top Department of Defense awards for exceptionally meritorious achievement, as members of a Mobile Training Team for the Jordan Analytical Laboratory System which enhanced Jordan's preparedness to counter the WMD threat.
"This has been by far the most important mission of my military career," COARNG U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Stephen Russ said. "The lessons I have learned will stay with me for the rest of my life."
The mission came into being when the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency partnered with Jordan to increase its preparedness for mass casualty-causing incidents as part of the U.S.-Jordan Countering WMD-Building Partner Capacity Program. As part of the program, Jordan received multiple decontamination systems.
The equipment's arrival in Jordan was only the beginning. DTRA needed experienced operators to help train Jordanian personnel. Operators like Russ, who, for six years, had been working as an active Guard and Reserve member at the Colorado National Guard's 8th Civil Support Team, Buckley Air Force Base, Aurora, Colorado.
"It's an enemy that you cannot see so you have to rely on your equipment that must be maintained properly, and you must know how to operate it," Russ said.
In 2015, his leadership asked if he wanted to accompany U.S. Army Maj. Vincent Cipriano to conduct an initial assessment of Jordan's WMD capabilities.
"I accepted the position immediately," Russ said. He even resigned a coveted AGR position to go on Active Duty for Operational Support orders.
Though he had never before been to the Middle East, Jordan was not an unknown.
"The reason that this mission was so successful was that Jordan and Colorado were already partners," Russ said.
Colorado and Jordan established a relationship in 2005 through the National Guard State Partnership Program which supports geographic combatant commands by building long-term relationships, improving interoperability, and enhancing military capabilities and the principles of responsible governance.
"Not only are Colorado and Jordan like family," CONG Director of the Joint Staff U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Gregory White said. "We also have similar WMD defensive equipment."
DTRA leveraged this long-standing relationship by initiating the CONG military-civilian training in Counter-WMD. Over three fiscal years, practically every month, the CONG team traveled to Jordan. Russ became the non-commissioned officer in charge and lead instructor. COARNG U.S. Army Col. Kelsey Marchalk later became the officer in charge after taking a leave of absence from her civilian mechanical engineering job.
"We hand-picked everyone for the team," Russ said. "This training was successful because of the amount of effort which the team put forward. We bonded as a training team and that filtered to the Jordanians so trust between all of us was built early on."
The MTT developed curriculum and conducted 22 courses, numerous complex scenarios and a joint civilian and military exercise that trained more than 30 Jordanian students in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and high-yield Explosives response protocols, reconnaissance, sampling, and rescue.
The instructors used professional Arabic translators, and training materials appeared in both English and Arabic. Discussions often became drawn out because word-for-word conversions do not exist between English and Arabic.
Such challenges aside, the MTT, together with the Jordanians, built an effective training program and a trained force, armed with a manual of standard operating procedures, and able to teach its skills. To date, more than 750 Jordanians from four military and civilian units, including the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army Chemical Support Unit and the Jordanian Civil Defense Directorate, are proficient in mass casualty decontamination operations.
"They have an increased level of confidence in how to respond as an individual or as a team," Marchalk said. "This has been a strategic mission for the U.S. that ties into our own national security."
The DTRA-led and -funded training strengthened Jordan's counter-WMD capabilities and resulted in the completion and opening of Jordan's CBRN Center of Excellence at the CSU.
"The support we have received from our American partners has been great," said JAF Lt. Col. Mirza Hatoqay, from the Arms Control branch. "DTRA and the Colorado National Guard have been very helpful in training with us on SOPs and how to sustain the training and equipment. We are grateful for that."
Ongoing SPP subject matter exchanges between Colorado and Jordan help sustain the program. Hundreds of new friendships also endure.
At the training's graduation ceremony in Jordan, Russ said, in Arabic, to his students:
"To my brothers: My time with you has been extraordinary. I thank you for your brotherhood, love and respect. You will forever be my brothers."