CAMP SMITH TRAINING SITE, N.Y. - Five New York Army National Guard officer candidates are heading to Albania in April to train with their counterparts from the Albanian Land Force and the New Jersey Army National Guard.
The New York officer candidates and six instructors from New York’s 106th Regional Training Institute are participating in the unique overseas training deployment, thanks to New Jersey’s 254th Regional Training Institute.
The April 10-24 event is part of the New Jersey National Guard’s State Partnership Program relationship with the Balkan nation.
It’s a great opportunity for his officer candidates to accomplish their required training while also learning to work with Guardsmen from another state and Soldiers from a NATO ally, said Lt. Col. Aaron Lefton, the commander of the 106th’s second battalion.
Lefton said this could also provide a model for the New York National Guard to develop similar training opportunities with its State Partnership Program countries, Brazil and South Africa.
“We are fortunate to be piggybacking on this with New Jersey,“ Lefton said.
Officer candidate Katherine Murrell, 30, who enlisted directly into New York officer candidate school, said she was looking forward to the trip.
“I know it is going to be a challenge to be out in the field for the entire time, but I think it will be a great experience,” she said.
Officer candidate Jason Frantz, 37, a specialist in the 152nd Engineer Support Company, said he had visited many places in the western Pacific while in the Navy and was looking forward to seeing a new country.
The New York Soldiers are coming along for the third phase of a five-year effort to help the Albanian army develop a military academy-style officer training program, according to Lt. Col. Stuart Loy, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 254th Training Regiment.
The New Jersey National Guard has had a State Partnership Program relationship with Albania since 1993. The Albanian military has turned to the New Jersey Guard to help modernize, and the officer education project is part of that effort, Loy explained.
When the Albanian Armed Forces decided to create a military academy officer commissioning system, the leaders reached out to the New Jersey National Guard and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for help, Loy said.
Two years ago, he spent 90 days in Albania as a subject matter expert to assist with their training and help decide how to proceed, Loy said. The New Jersey Guard and Albanian leaders devised a plan to change Albanian’s officer training process.
The first phase took place in 2022 when New Jersey officer candidates traveled to Albania for joint training with their Albanian counterparts, Loy said.
“The integration of our officer candidates and their officer candidates working together was a huge success,” Loy said. The goal, he said, was to demonstrate western military leadership style with hands-on examples.
While the Albanians, as NATO allies, had learned some basic English, it was good practice for the Americans to work out the communications difficulties, Loy said.
“We used that as a training tool and a challenge,” he said.
The next step in the plan was to integrate Soldiers from another Army Guard element into the training, Loy said. So, he reached out to New York’s 106th RTI.
“They are our neighboring state, and we do a lot of interaction with them,” Loy said.
The New York and New Jersey Guardsmen will depart Joint Base Mcguire-Dix-Lakehurst April 10. They will travel to a training area on the Adriatic Sea near Durres, Albania’s second-largest city, and stay in the field.
During the first week, they will complete situational training required by the officer candidate school program.
On day seven, the officer candidates will visit the city of Durres and participate in a “staff ride” reviewing the region’s history and the battles waged nearby during the Roman civil wars of 44 to 31 B.C.
The second phase of the training will concentrate on platoon-level tactics and give the candidates leadership opportunities.
Yuri Kim, U.S. ambassador to Albania, is expected to view a platoon attack exercise conducted by the Americans and Albanians.
It will be challenging for the New York officer candidates to work with soldiers who speak a different language, Lefton said.
But he thinks the Americans can help the Albanians —whose army was originally modeled on that of the Soviet Union with top-down leadership — learn the more independent, American system of leading troops.
“New Jersey has worked hard to build this model with the Albanians. It is going to be interesting,” Lefton said.