Virginia National Guard works with Tajikistan’s Peacekeeping Operations Battalion on infantry and medical tactics

Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen pose with members of the Tajikistan Peacekeeping Operations Battalion following an infantry tactic and medical support exchange in Dushanbe, Tajikistna in November 2012. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Guard State Partnership Program)

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers and Airmen of the Virginia National Guard participated in missions to Tajikistan from Nov. 3-16, 2012, where they conducted an exchange in infantry tactics and medical support procedures with the Tajikistan Peacekeeping Operations Battalion in preparation for future United Nations missions.

Lt. Col. Michael Renforth of the 192nd Medical Group led the Medical Exchange, while 1st Lt. David Worley of the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team led the Infantry Tactical Exchange. The teams consisted of Soldiers and Airmen from Joint Force Headquarters; 192nd Medical Group; Virginia Army National Guard Medical Command; Intel and Sustainment Company, 29th Infantry Division; Companies B and C, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team; and Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery.

Virginia National Guard Soldiers discuss infantry tactics with members of the Tajikistan military during a military exchange Nov. 3-16 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Topics covered by the exchange included hand and arm signals, Individual Movement Techniques, team and squad movement, and basic squad-level battle drills. (Photo courtesy of the Virginia Guard State Partnership Program)

The service members conducted military information exchanges with two classes of approximately 30 Tajikistan Army conscripts. Many of the Tajik Soldiers held assignments in the PKO Battalion, while some of the soldiers held assignments with the Counter-Terrorism Battalion, another high-priority unit for both the Tajik and American governments. Topics covered included hand and arm signals, Individual Movement Techniques, team and squad movement, and basic squad-level battle drills. Each class also conducted a cumulative demonstration in which the Tajik soldiers demonstrated their proficiency by executing a scenario that reflected their capabilities in a multi-faceted, realistic scenario incorporating all of the topics from both engagements.

The Virginia National Guard has engaged primarily with the PKO Battalion since March 2012. In eight different missions in 2012, Virginia National Guard Soldiers and Airmen engaged in topics such as first aid, leader development, individual and small unit tactics, peacekeeping duties, and tactical communications.

Each year since 2003, the nation of Kazakhstan in Central Asia hosts a multi-national peacekeeping exercise called STEPPE EAGLE. Approximately 1,500 Soldiers participated from Kazakhstan, U.S., U.K., and Tajikistan. Representatives of Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France and Ukraine also participated in the exercise. STEPPE EAGLE is aimed at achieving interoperability of the Kazakh military in peacekeeping operations and tests the ability to perform tasks in the multinational force structure with a unified command.

Tajikistan partook in this exercise from Sept. 6-20, 2012 as a full participant for the first time, sending a platoon from the PKO Battalion. The platoon became the first unit of Tajikistan’s military to operate outside the national borders and the exercise evaluators ranked the performance of this unit as third out of the 11 nations participating.

“Some observers held low expectations of the Tajiks before they arrived,” explained Lt. Col. Matthew A. Ritchie, State Partnership Program Director for the Virginia National Guard. “The Tajiks earned the respect of the other nations, with their dedication to duty and strong professionalism.” He also further described the popularity of the security cooperation missions among Virginia Guardsmen.

The Virginia-Tajikistan partnership started in 2003, with the first exchange in early 2004. Since then dozens of Virginia Guardsmen and hundreds of Tajik Soldiers have participated in these exchanges, which have been beneficial to both sides, said Ritchie.