Va. Guard travels to Tajikistan to share skills, experience

Staff Sgt. Lawrence Provost, 29th Infantry Division, discusses the history of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons with members of the Tajikistani military cadets Aug. 22, 2014, during a military exchange in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Staff Sgt. Lawrence Provost, 29th Infantry Division, discusses the history of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons with members of the Tajikistani military cadets Aug. 22, 2014, during a military exchange in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — Twenty-three Airmen and Soldiers of the Virginia National Guard conducted demonstrations and information exchanges with members of the Tajikistani military in late July and August in Dushanbe, Tajikistan in support of the enduring relationship between the Virginia National Guard and the Republic of Tajikistan as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program. Soldiers covered a variety of topics including reacting to indirect fire; peacekeeping operations; chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense operations; combatives; and information assurance techniques.

A group of six Soldiers from the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and one Airman from the 192nd Medical Group, 192nd Fighter Wing participated in a seven-day information exchange focused on introducing the Tajikistani military to battery defense, field sanitation, personal hygiene, convoy operations, fire missions, target identification and land navigation.

Capt. Jason Remington, 1st Lt. Daniel Tarrant, 2nd Lt. William Gooch, Sgt. 1st Class Latroi Ross, Master Sgt. Thomas Powell, Staff Sgt. Teron L. Alford, Sgt. Conrad Shadel and Spc. Cameron Casey worked with 10 Tajikistani officers at Shamsi Base, Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The exchange began with a review of individual movement techniques before transitioning to team and squad-sized movements. The focus shifted to other artillery-specific topics during the second week. In addition, the team shared hand and arm communication techniques, as well as their experiences with actions on contact learned from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We did several after action reviews with the Tajikistanis,” said Staff Sgt. Teron L. Alford, assistant operations officer, Battery B, 1st Battalion, 111th Field Artillery Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “We really felt that we learned so much about working outside the box.”

“When we were in Tajikistan, we had to re-learn our own language and had to stop using our military jargon,” Alford explained. “As we were talking with the guys and interacting with them, we couldn’t use American acronyms or terms that we use here in the states.”

“It was definitely an eye-opening experience for me,” Alford said.

Capt. Anthony Stephens, Master Sgt. Jeffery P. Higgins, and Staff Sgt. Andres Valdessarria from the Fairfax-based Data Processing Unit, Information Operations Support Center, 91st Troop Command joined Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, from the Virginia National Guard’s joint staff, Staff Sgt. Lawrence Provost, 29th Infantry Division, Staff Sgt. Joshua Webb, 34th Civil Support Team – Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Lt. Col. Matthew Ritchie, Virginia Guard SPP Director, for their mission Aug. 16-26.

During the visit, Stephens, Higgins and Valdessarria focused their efforts on communicating information assurance best practices and network security, explained Higgins.

“It was great to talk with the Tajikistanis about network security,” Higgins said. “They have a lot of the same concerns and issues that we face and it was interesting to hear how they mitigate their risks and protect their infrastructure.”

Va. Guard Soldiers work with Tajikistani military on IA programs

Capt. Anthony Stephens discusses information assurance and network security with members of the Tajikistan military during a military exchange Aug. 25, 2014, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

The team worked with six IT professionals from the Tajikistani military. The exchange began with an overview of the principles of information assurance before transitioning into several in-depth briefs, discussions, and demonstrations of internet security principles. Members of the Tajikistani military were able to run through common scenarios that incorporate the themes of information assurance, Higgins said. Each day provided the Tajikistanis opportunities to ask questions, share knowledge or experience related to internet security and learn new business practices that will assist in the future security of their military networks.

Czaplicki, Provost and Webb made the journey to Dushanbe in an effort to assess the Tajikistani military’s CBRN defense capabilities and organizational structure during conventional warfare, according to Provost.

“My original job in the Army was as a chemical specialist,” said Provost. “This was a great opportunity to share my 15 years of experience with these cadets in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever done before—this was truly a unique experience.”

A total of 26 Tajikistani cadets and five officers, most of whom were high-ranking members of the country’s CBRN program, participated in the workshop. The topics covered during the week included a brief history of CBRN warfare, modern and emerging threats, and contamination avoidance principles.

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Staff Sgt. Joshua Webb demonstrates how to relieve an assailant of a weapon while addressing a class of officer cadets at the Dushanbe-based Tajikistan Military Institute Aug. 21, 2014, during a military exchange in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

Prior to class discussions, Webb would lead a short demonstration of techniques found in the Modern Army Combatives program.

“I thought the combatives demonstrations were really fun and the cadets seemed really excited “ Webb said. “It was great way to gain their trust. Combat is a universal language and it was a great ice-breaker.”

“I was happy that several cadets and cadre were able to show me a few techniques too,” Webb said. “The cadets’ eagerness was really motivating to me.”

“Because this was the first time anyone from the Guard had tried to assess their conventional CBRN force structure, we had no idea what kind of engagement to prepare for,” Czaplicki explained. “For the most part, our general discussions and information briefs were appropriate, but I wish we had more time to really dig deeper into some of the subject matter. The cadets couldn’t get enough.”

Additionally, Va. Guard leaders talked with Tajikistani students at the American Corner, a learning center sponsored by the United States Embassy, Aug. 12, 2014, at the National Library in Dushanbe. Brig. Gen. Janice G. Igou, Virginia National Guard Director of Interagency Operations, Chaplain (Col.) Todd W. Combee, the Virginia National Guard state chaplain, Col. Lapthe C. Flora, a member of the Virginia National Guard joint staff, and Command Sgt. Maj. Alan M. Ferris, battalion command sergeant major for the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, shared experiences from their personal and professional careers. Igou discussed serving in the U. S. military as a female, Combee talked about the role of a chaplain, Flora explained how he has served in the U.S. military as a naturalized citizen and Ferris spoke about the role of the noncommissioned officer corps.

Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Joint Forces Headquarters, presents a certificate of appreciation to the cadets and cadre of the Tajikistani Miltiary Institute Aug. 24, 2014.

Capt. Andrew J. Czaplicki, Joint Forces Headquarters, presents a certificate of appreciation to the cadets and cadre of the Tajikistani Miltiary Institute Aug. 24, 2014.

Throughout the process, the Va. Guard Soldiers shared their insights, based on their experience with the National Guard domestic and overseas operations, as well as their civilian expertise. Many of this summer’s missions were the first of their kind, explained Ritchie.

“These two missions break new ground in the longstanding security cooperation relationship between the Republic of Tajikistan and the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

“We expect to continue this relationship based on shared interests, and defense against common threats,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie also commented that this was his last trip as the SPP director, he will be replaced by Maj. Timothy Crider.

“I’ve seen a great deal of progress in this nation and its military over three and a half years,” Ritchie said. “I have brought over 100 Virginia National Guardsmen to this country [in three and a half years], and virtually all of them want to come back. They find their engagement with the Tajikistani military to be both personally and professionally rewarding. They appreciate the people here, as well as their culture.”

“We have excellent working relationships with both USCENTCOM (U.S. Central Command) and the U.S. Embassy,” Ritchie continued.

In addition to their time with the Tajikistanis, the Soldiers visited the National Museum of the Republic of Tajikistan, Victory Park, the monument to the heroes of World War II and the Statue of King Somoni.

In addition to their time with the Tajikistanis, the Soldiers visited the National Museum of the Republic of Tajikistan, Victory Park, the monument to the heroes of World War II and the Statue of King Somoni. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Lawrence Provost, 29th Infantry Division).

In addition to their time with the Tajikistanis, the Soldiers visited the National Museum of the Republic of Tajikistan, Victory Park, the monument to the heroes of World War II and the Statue of King Somoni.

“The cadets were very interested in my experience in Iraq as an infantryman,“ Webb said. “I was able to easily make connections between CBRN defense to some of the tactics we observed insurgents using during Fallujah and Ramadi (Iraq).”

“I feel like I made a great contribution—I love cross-cultural exchanges,” Provost said. “I believe in the SPP mission and I know that the relationships that we build here make a difference.”

Tajikistan sits on Afghanistan’s northeastern boarder, lying adjacent to the Afghan provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz and Balkh. The 749-mile border traces the Panji and Amu Darya Rivers. Ninety-three percent of Tajikistan is covered in mountainous terrain and almost all of its southeastern border with Afghanistan is in the Pamir Mountain range, which is close to the intersection of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush Mountains.

As part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program, the Virginia National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals, but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres. Va. Guard Soldiers and Airmen gain experience working overseas with Tajikistani partners and reinforces the knowledge, skills and attributes obtained during the past decade.

As a key U.S. security cooperation tool, the SPP demonstrates the strength of the National Guard on the global stage through the development of long-term relationships, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level.

The National Guard program began in 1991, with three Baltic nations. It has grown to 68 unique security partnerships involving 74 nations around the globe.

The SPP between the Virginia National Guard and the Republic of Tajikistan began in 2003. Since then dozens of Va. Guard Soldiers and hundreds of Tajikistani Soldiers have participated in these exchanges.

Learn more about Virginia’s State Partnership Program at their Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/VirginiaGuardSPP