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NEWS | Sept. 26, 2014

California National Guard Soldiers train with Indian counterparts in shadow of the Himalayas

By Capt. Jason Sweeney California National Guard

CHAUBATTIA CANTONMENT, India - California National Guard Soldiers are training with the Indian Army under the shadow of the Himalayas during Yudh Abhyas 2014.

Under a bright blue sky with the snow-capped Himalayas in the distance, the annual Yudh Abhyas exercise kicked off Sept. 17 on a parade field at Chaubattia Cantonment, India.

Soldiers from the Indian and U.S. armies took the field, stood at attention and saluted as the Indian Army band played the national anthems of both nations.

Yudh Abhyas 2014 has taken U.S. Army Soldiers to an Indian Army base in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. The journey to the training site entailed a daylong flight from Fairbanks, Alaska, to New Delhi, India, followed by a 12-hour bus ride up mountain roads to Ranikhet Cantonment located above 6,000 feet in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Yudh Abhyas is a bilateral exercise between U.S. Army Pacific and the Indian Army that is now in its 10th year. Over the years it has been held at various locations—from Hawaii to Alaska to North Carolina to India. The California National Guard has participated since 2008.

“We now have a historical relationship with U.S. Army Pacific Command and the Indian Army,” said Cal Guard Col. Steven Buethe, who is playing the role of the United Nations Force Headquarters Deputy Commander for the exercise. “We’ve done a very good job over the years and they’ve come back to us each year and asked us to support this exercise.”

Yudh Abhyas is about building relationships and developing interoperability between the U.S. and Indian armies. This year, the two-week exercise simulates a peacekeeping mission in a fictional East African nation in which U.S. and Indian Soldiers integrate into a single brigade tasked to provide stability and security to the region. U.S. and Indian Soldiers have been training on various tasks that they might encounter in a peacekeeping operation, such as crowd control, cordon and search and responding to terrorist threats.

U.S. participants include the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division; 5th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 1st Group, U.S. Army Special Forces and 12 Soldiers from the California National Guard.

California National Guard Soldiers are playing the role of the United Nations Force Headquarters for the exercise.

“We’re here to provide support to the Yudh Abhyas 2014 exercise and help facilitate making this event beneficial for all involved,” Buethe said. “We have individuals who were hand selected to participate. I think the working group dynamic that we’ve brought from the California National Guard is going to ultimately make our participation very successful this year.”

Cal Guard Capt. Yusef Parker is playing the role of a United Nations Force Headquarters staff officer. During the exercise, he has worked side by side with his Indian Army counterpart creating situational updates, threat assessments and analyzing reports from the brigade level.

“The training value of this exercise is that it gives U.S. Army personnel a basic understanding of United Nations peacekeeping operations,” Parker said. “The additional training value is more in the form of relationships built with our Indian Army counterparts. The majority of the U.S. Army personnel in this exercise have an Indian Army counterpart and most of our counterparts have some form of U.N. peacekeeping operation experience in countries such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Lebanon.”

An Indian Army infantry colonel, who is playing the role of U.N. Force Headquarters Commander, said the Indian Army has a long history of participating in U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world. He explained that India participates in peacekeeping to show presence on the world stage and help contribute to world peace.

“Working with the California National Guard has been a learning experience,” he said. “The style of functioning is very good, very friendly and very positive.”

Cal Guard Capt. Charles Stone, who is playing the role of a U.N. Forces Headquarters Judge Advocate General, said Yudh Abhyas 2014 has been a unique and rewarding experience.

“The California National Guard has given me a phenomenal opportunity to experience the country of India, its people and its culture while training and developing interoperability with our Indian Army counterparts,” Stone said.