UJDOROGD, Hungary –
As the squads slowly moved forward into the village, the vicious chatter of machine gun fire erupted as they engaged enemy forces. Building by building, the teams painstakingly cleared each room; hand motions and short sharp commands are all the communication required. The enemy was routed, but not without injuries to the victors. Hobbling out, supported by two teammates, one soldier was assisted onto a helicopter, waiting to get the wounded to medical help.
Bystanders would be amazed that for the vast majority of the squads, they had only met a week ago and were made up of members from three different countries’ militaries. Despite the culture barriers, they all had one thing in common, they were soldiers. Welcome to Exercise Neighbors 2018.
“I wasn’t watching three militaries out there,” said Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio assistant adjutant general for Army. “I watched one cohesive unit engage and destroy the enemy and accomplish the mission.”
Exercise Neighbors is an annual exercise conducted between the Ohio National Guard, Hungarian Defence Forces and Serbian Armed Forces, focusing on small unit infantry tactics and building interoperability between squads and platoons. Hungary and Serbia take turns hosting the annual event, which dates back to 2009, with the Ohio National Guard first participating in 2015. This year, 10 Soldiers from the Ohio National Guard took part.
“It’s a great opportunity to work together with the Ohio National Guard and Serbian soldiers,” said Lt. Col. Peter Vadasz, the commander of the 3rd Infantry Battalion, 5th Infantry Brigade, Hungarian Defence Forces. “We all face many similar situations; these training exercise help us learn each other’s techniques and tactics.”
Soldiers focused on small unit tactics, such as room clearing and fire support. To improve interoperability and to challenge participants, each squad was fully integrated with members from all three countries.
Along with exchanging military tactics and experiences, Soldiers participating had to break out of their comfort zone to learn about each other and their language and culture.
“The first day was a little awkward, as no one is sure how to communicate with each other,” said Sgt. Matthew Clegg, a sniper team leader with Troop C, 2nd Squadron, 107th Cavalry Regiment. “Once we started working together, everything came together great. Soldiers are Soldiers, pretty much anywhere you go.”
The Ohio National Guard is a partner with both nations through the Department of Defense State Partnership Program, an initiative that seeks to forge relationships between the United States and other nations by partnering a state’s National Guard with a designated country’s military force. The ONG has partnered with Hungary for 25 years and Serbia for 12. In all, there are 75 partnerships with 81 nations around the world through the partnership.
Exercise organizers said plans to expand the current weeklong exercise in future years are underway, with the goals of integrating company-level elements along with staff elements.