HARTFORD, Conn. - Seven members of the 192nd Engineer Battalion conducted counter-improvised explosive device training with the Uruguayan Army in Montevideo, Uruguay, July 15-25 as part of a bilateral exchange between the two partners.
The Connecticut National Guard and Uruguay have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program since 2000.
“It was awesome to see this side of the Guard,” said Staff Sgt. Nathan Carrasquillo, a communication specialist assigned to the 192nd. “We’re not just the Connecticut National Guard. When we were over there, we were representing the U.S. We were representing the U.S. Army. We were filling a bigger role. We were doing something a lot bigger than ourselves. We were literally fostering a friendship with another nation, a partner nation, to show them that we care about them, they care about us. We are the same; we have a lot of similarities.”
The group worked with Uruguayan Army instructors and a diverse rank structure of more than 30 Uruguayan Soldiers preparing to deploy to Africa and Syria to support U.N. peacekeeping missions. The Soldiers were mostly noncommissioned officers and junior officers representing artillery, infantry, scuba divers, K-9 handlers, engineers and armor specialties.
Setting learning conditions right up front was critical for Master Sgt. Ernesto Rios-Soto, team noncommissioned officer in charge.
“We are here to show you a way to do things, not the way to do things, and this is going to be collectively led, not us telling you,” Rios-Soto said. “We are going to learn from you as much you learn from us. It’s a group effort, and we’re going to learn together.”
There were two days of classroom education and three days of practical exercises in the field. In two teams, the Soldiers maneuvered along a two-mile lane, reacting to IEDs and ambushes in progressively more difficult challenges.
“We shared our experiences and knowledge of IED placement, what to look out for, indicators, the five C’s (check, confirm, clear, cordon and control,)” said Sgt. Ismael Gutierrez, a combat engineer and heavy equipment operator assigned to the 250th Engineer Company. “You find it, then what? You’ve got to clear it and go through the whole process of what to do about the IED once it is found. The first day we snailed it, the second day we did a crawl, a mini-walk, then the last day – full send.”
The group from the 192nd Engineers brought plenty of real-life experience to the exchange.
“I joined in 2009 and was active duty going on two combat deployments with my Fort Drum-based unit,” said Gutierrez. “We were training up for Sapper school, so they made sure I knew a lot about explosives, demo (calculations) and all that. On my second deployment, we did route clearance, so I became very familiar and hands-on with high explosives.”
Uruguay is the largest per capita contributor to U.N. peacekeeping operations, so the exchange had tangible benefits that could save lives.
“They do peacekeeping operations all the time, and they have never really been exposed to this type of threat in the places they’re used to going, such as the Congo,” said Rios-Soto. “Now, being in Syria, the threat (of IEDs) is more real when they’re doing their patrols.
“So, I went back a little bit and explained about our [tactics, techniques and procedures], about how we came up with this in 2003 and how we learned this way, sadly through experience, and we want to share this with you guys,” he said.
When asked what Guard Soldiers and Airmen should know about the SPP exchange, Rios-Soto emphasized that it was a work trip, not a vacation.
“You do have a good time, but it’s more work than we normally do during annual training,” he said. “The participants were eager for knowledge, and they always wanted more, more, more, so we constantly made ourselves available to them during every phase of training and during the little downtime we did get.”
The COVID-19 pandemic limited bilateral exchanges to virtual engagements, but face-to-face interaction is more effective and enables work on substantive topics such as counter-IED.
“For me, it really matters,” said Rios-Soto. “It’s bigger than me, or our battalion, or Connecticut. It’s an international mission, I’m very proud to do this mission and I will do it anytime, as many times as I can, because I feel like it makes a difference.”