DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – About 300 troops from the United States, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Pakistan trained together for the exercise Regional Cooperation 22 Aug. 6-18.
The annual exercise, sponsored by U.S. Central Command and primarily conducted by National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, enhanced multinational stability operations and cooperation on counterterrorism and joint combined capabilities among the U.S. and Central and South Asia, or CASA, nations.
“It’s really about collaboration and building those partnerships and ensuring that we all recognize that none of us want terrorism,” said Col. Peter Fiorentino, a Massachusetts National Guardsman who served as the brigade deputy commander for the exercise. “We all want to live peaceful, stable lives.”
This year’s exercise, held for the sixth time in Tajikistan, included a command post exercise, or CPX, and a field training exercise, or FTX. A three-day academic lead-up preceded both events to establish participants’ baseline knowledge.
Before the start of the CPX, the academic portion of the event focused on the military decision-making process. From there, U.S. forces worked with their partner nation counterparts as a cohesive brigade staff to address a scenario that included border disputes and disruptions, ethnic tensions, civil unrest and a humanitarian crisis that displaced 50,000 people.
“At the end of the day, we met our objectives and everyone was working toward the same goal,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Carter, lead exercise planner for RC22. “It really helps when we’re all trying to achieve the same objective, which is building our capabilities on security cooperation.”
Staff from the Massachusetts National Guard served in the lead for the United States at the CPX, a role they have served for the past 16 years. Additional Soldiers and Airmen from the Virginia, Arizona, Montana and Mississippi National Guard also participated in RC22, alongside their State Partnership Program partner nations. SPP is a Department of Defense program that links a state’s National Guard to the armed forces of a partner nation to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with U.S. allies around the world. The Virginia National Guard and Tajikistan have been partners since 2003.
“We’re leveraging the State Partnership Program that we have with the National Guard,” Carter explained. “Tajikistan has a relationship with Virginia, and those relationships were vital and huge for this exercise.”
While several Virginia National Guard Soldiers participated in the CPX, most were part of the FTX, held at a training site outside Dushanbe. There, advisers from Advisor Team 3320, assigned to the 3rd Security Force Assistance Brigade, led an information exchange that covered the treatment of common battlefield wounds, convoy operations and close-quarters battle.
“The exchange went excellent and both sides were able to grow together throughout,” said Maj. Andrew Kuntz, Bravo Troop, 3rd SFAB commander. Based in Fort Hood, Texas, Kuntz and his advisers are deployed to Jordan. “I think the relationship-building, which was the primary focus of this, worked out very well and that relationship is now there to continue.”
Kuntz explained exercises such as RC22 are atypical for the SFAB. With the invitation to participate, Kuntz and his team were able to build relationships in Tajikistan.
“We don’t necessarily come to these events for these events specifically,” Kuntz said. “What we’re trying to do is build a relationship so we can get a permanent partnership with one unit of their country at the operational level.”
Sgt. Peter Leon, a team leader assigned to the Virginia National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said getting to know his counterparts from Tajikistan was a highlight of the experience.
“It’s a good experience coming over to these nations and working with them. It presents new opportunities for Soldiers to learn new cultures and new training, as well as prepares both our military and their military for future cooperation so we can know the capabilities and limitations of each other and we can better complement each other in real-world scenarios,” Leon said.
In the final days of the exercise, senior leaders visited the CPX and the FTX. Among the visitors: Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck, the adjutant general of Arizona; Brig. Gen. Maurizio D. Calabrese, deputy commanding general for intelligence at U.S. Central Command’s Over-the-Horizon Counterterrorism Headquarters; and Col. Kurt Kobernik, the Virginia National Guard’s J3 director of joint operations.
“It’s important that we ensure continued resources for these international exercises. Any chance we have to increase interoperability during times of peace greatly enhances our productivity during war,” said Muehlenbeck. “The National Guard prides itself in our motto, ‘Always ready, always there.’ This is how we get there.”