RICHMOND, Va. — Several Virginia National Guard Soldiers participated in the Military Reserve Exchange Program in 2019, traveling abroad and attaching to foreign armies in a unique opportunity for military professional development.
MREP enables Guard and Reserve Soldiers, both officers and non-commissioned officers, to temporarily attach to and train with select allied nations. It helps participants increase their knowledge of foreign Reserve Forces and demonstrates continued support of NATO members and their militaries.
The 2019 VNG participants traveled to the United Kingdom to train with British troops.
“I exchanged with a medical regiment in a logistics brigade,” said Maj. Mark Ford, operations officer for the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who participated in the program from Sept. 5-22. “We participated in a first-of-its-kind exercise putting us in the field. I served as an operations officer planning the tactical employment of forces and capabilities. There was a near-peer professional opposing force and we ran operations in the field for about a week after the initial training and planning for deployment.”
Ford gave the experience high marks for providing a unique opportunity for development.
“The opportunity to train with NATO partners is priceless,” he said. “I have deployed, been to many schools and participated in many exercises, but immersing myself in a NATO partner’s training exercise abroad taught me a lot about doctrine, tactical employment of multinational forces, and it taught me a lot about the culture of the U.K., which will be helpful in working with U.K. forces in the future.”
1st Lt. Rich Crawford, commander of the Leesburg-based Charlie Company, 3-116th, participated in the exchange program from May 23 – June 9. He explained how the exchange can benefit not just VNG Soldiers, but partner forces as well.
“The unit I was with took one of the methods the U.S. uses to cross linear danger areas into their standard operating procedures because they liked it better than what they currently used,” said Crawford. “Overall, it’s an exchange of ideas and techniques.”
In general, a Soldier participating in the MREP can expect to participate in a tactical training rotation similar to annual Guard or Reserve training, said Capt. Leo Godunov, planning officer for the Fort Belvoir-based Operations Company, Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division. Godunov participated in the program in September, deploying with British forces for a training exercise in Croatia.
“This is probably one of the top professional development opportunities that I’ve had,” said Godunov. “The ability to forward deploy, integrate and immerse yourself into training with a foreign military for a few weeks is really a unique experience.”
The professional development doesn’t end with the exchange of training and warfighting tactics. Participants also get to experience the local culture.
“We did a six-day exercise in the field that was a full immersion training, similar to a National Training Center rotation, but they also had three cultural days on the back end to give Soldiers a chance to bond with each other over barbecue and local attraction visits,” said Godunov.
“We also had a few days to explore the country,” said Ford. “I was able to see Colchester castle, multiple U.S. military cemeteries and monuments, Duxford military museum, and I saw pretty much everything you would want to see in London. I also had the opportunity to tour Sandhurst military academy.”
Since the program is an exchange, the Virginia National Guard also hosts Soldiers from the partner nation.
“We host a soldier here in the U.S. and they get to experience our annual training event,” said Ford. “The unit I exchanged with sent a warrant officer to eXportable Combat Training Capability with us from July 13 to Aug. 2. He was fully immersed in XCTC and was able to see many different types of training as well as participate in live-fire exercises with small arms, machine guns, sniper rifles and mortars.”
Ford said if a Soldier is interested, they shouldn’t hesitate.
“My advice to someone thinking about applying is to go for it,” said Ford. “As long as your employment and home situation allow for an extra two-three weeks away that year on top of your annual training, then it is an invaluable experience that you’ll gain a lot of knowledge from.”