Va. Guard engineers work with Tajikistan’s Peacekeeping Operations Battalion on Improvised Explosive Device and Unexploded Ordinance avoidance

SANDSTON, Va. — Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Bowling Green-based 189th 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 276th Engineers, 1st Lt. Jonathan Russo, 1st Lt. Alexander Nance, Sgt. Jimmy Brinkley, Sgt. Sherwood Anderson, and the State Partnership Director, Lt. Col. Matthew Ritchie.

“This team was very focused and dedicated,” said Ritchie. “They did a good job of completing the mission and learned a lot about the Tajikistan culture as well.”

The main focus was familiarization as the topics discussed 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. Other topics covered included patrolling and room clearance, and first aid. Daily physical fitness is a large focus of the Tajiks training and includes sports and combatives which helped get all of the soldiers involved as well as break down barriers between the groups.

“My overall impression was that we are making definite progress in our missions with the Peacekeeping Battalion,” said 1st Lt. Alexander Nance. “The soldiers we were working with seem to be retaining what they learned on previous missions, and even the progress from the first day to the last day of our missions was noticeable.”

“I was continually impressed by their willingness and enthusiasm to learn, as well as their eagerness to teach us what they knew as well,” Nance added. “We can learn from 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.”

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 give a brief to 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 Feb. 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.

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.