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NEWS | Aug. 11, 2014

Louisiana Soldiers endure jungle training with partners in Belize

By Staff Sgt. Denis B Ricou Louisiana National Guard

NEW ORLEANS - A platoon of Louisiana National Guard members travelled to Belize for two weeks of unique jungle warfare training with the Belize Defence Force last month, which also focused on building relationships between service members from the two nations.

"This platoon-level operation was an incredible opportunity for our Louisiana Soldiers to engage in jungle-type training with the experts ... something we haven't done since 2003," said Lt. Col. Keith Robinson, state training officer for the LANG, on the operation which included jungle navigation, jungle survival, river and obstacle crossing and a culminating battalion-level jungle exercise.

Louisiana and Belize have been paired together since 1996 in the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, which couples countries and states together to link U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations to establish and sustain enduring relationships to promote national objectives, stability, partner capacity, better understanding and trust.

Soldiers from the 773rd Military Police Battalion and the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team were fully integrated into a BDF battalion for the exercise. They worked alongside members of the British Army Training Support Unit Belize and active-duty U.S. Army Troops from SOUTHCOM, said Robinson.

For Spc. Carson Fee, of Zachary, this exercise was his first time overseas with the military and an unforgettable one at that.

"This type of training and experience is the whole reason people join the military," Fee said. "Survival training in an actual jungle is the way it should it be done."

"This was my first time working with a foreign nation military, and there was so much to learn from their culture and training," said Fee. "Throughout the training, there was a sharing of knowledge and tactics. For example, we showed them our basic infantry tactics and they (BDF) showed us their jungle survival tactics ... a constant give and take."

"Building the partnership with the BDF Volunteer Battalion is the number one objective," Robinson added. "But from the standpoint of the Louisiana National Guard, as for training and retention, these guys now have an experience that will last a lifetime ... something they've never done before but hopefully something they can do again in the future."

Staff Sgt. Thomas C. Vice II, from Colfax, squad leader in the 239th MP Company, was impressed by the difference between what his Soldiers gained from the stripped-down basics of jungle training as opposed to the urban training to which they are accustomed.

"This specific training in Belize gave my team a confidence in themselves and a new sense of personal courage," said Vice. "On one particular overnight mission, we were told to only bring a knife and some water. For some, it was hard to believe that we were going to survive without all of our equipment. But with the training we received - jungle eating, shelter building, water purification - we found out a lot about ourselves and what we are capable of. I was able to see my guys band together and develop a trust amongst themselves and the BDF Soldiers like nothing else," Vice said.

Observing the training from a leader's perspective, Leesville native Cpt. John M. Owsley, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 773rd Military Police Battalion, was responsible for the coordination of logistics support between the two countries and the combined training of the LANG and BDF.

"Our Louisiana Guardsmen were able to live, train and survive without the need of many enablers," Owsley said. "That experience allowed them to see that they could accomplish missions under any circumstance, which can be applied in any environment throughout the world including their personal lives."

"My Soldiers had an opportunity to see how others lived and ended up making friends with their counterpart BDF Soldiers, said Owsley on the value of the overseas deployment training. "The Louisiana and Belizean Soldiers endured the training hardships together, and we, the leaders, got to understand what's important to Soldiers from the two different countries."

Owsley added, "My Soldiers and I would return at the drop of a hat and endure the harsh conditions for another opportunity to increase our Soldier skills and work alongside Belize's jungle warriors."

The SPP has been successfully building relationships for over 20 years that includes 68 unique security partnerships involving 74 nations around the globe.