Virginia Guard engineers work with Tajik troops on IED and UXO avoidance

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Bowling Green-based 189th Engineer Company and West Point-based 237th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion participated in a mission to Tajikistan from Feb. 5-13, 2013, where they conducted an exchange focusing on improvised explosive device and unexploded ordinance awareness and avoidance with the Tajikistan Peacekeeping Operations Battalion.

The latest state partnership team included 1st Lt. Jonathan Russo, 1st Lt. Alexander Nance, Sgt. Jimmy Brinkley, Sgt. Sherwood Anderson from the 276th Engineer Battalion and the State Partnership Director Lt. Col. Matthew Ritchie.

“This team brought a special focus,” said Ritchie. “They made a particular effort to learn about Tajik culture and appreciate their heritage.”

The exchange focused on unclassified methods of identification and reaction to IEDs and UXO in the field, at a tactical level for individual Soldiers. The event focused on the PKO Battalion at Shamsi and supported preparation for future United Nations deployments. Many UN missions take place in former war zones, in which abandoned munitions pose a danger to peacekeepers and local civilians. Other topics covered included patrolling, room clearance and first aid. The Tajik soldiers put a special emphasis on fitness. A typical week includes sports and combatives, which get all of the soldiers involved, as well as break down barriers between the two nationalities.

“My overall impression was that we are definitely making an impact in our missions with the peacekeeping battalion,” said Nance. “The Tajik soldiers show a higher level of performance and capabilities compared to previous missions, and even the level of performance from the first day to the last day of our missions was noticeable.

”I was continually impressed by their willingness and enthusiasm, as well as their eagerness to show us what they knew as well. We can benefit from working with them just like they can from us, and that healthy information exchanges like these will continue to be a tremendous benefit to both of our forces,” Nance remarked.

As the PKO Battalion already worked with previous SPP engagement teams, it was easier for the group to discuss more advanced techniques, as well as integration into other aspects of PKO operations. The typical duty day included engaging in the exchange topic and sharing information, followed by physical training or sports, then integration of several topics including patrolling, room clearing, reacting to contact, squad tactics and first aid.

A visit to a military Lyceum, or high school, provided an opportunity for Ritchie to talk with the cadets on future careers in public service. The brief was well received by the cadets, Ritchie reflected, “They are bright kids with a chance for better futures.”

Tajikistan celebrated 20 years since the formal founding of a national military in February 2013. As the Tajikistan military is still young, a common goal is to continue to develop their training and formal education for all members of their military, Ritchie said.

Tajikistan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is located in Central Asia, directly north of Afghanistan. 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. The Virginia National Guard has engaged primarily with the PKO Battalion since March 2012.