Va. Guard Soldiers host British, German counterparts during annual training

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British Sgt. Maj. Colin Perry of Company A, 3rd Battalion, Royal Welsh Regiment, a reserve component in Wrexham, Wales, prepares to board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Brigade at Fort Pickett, Va., June 14, 2013. Perry trained with the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team during their annual training June 8-22, through the Reserve Officer Foreign Exchange Program. (Photo by Sgt. JoAnna Greene, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office)

FORT PICKETT, Virginia — Troops of the Staunton-based 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team hosted four soldiers from the United Kingdom and Germany during their annual training at Fort Pickett, Va., June 8-22, 2013.  The servicemembers and their 116th IBCT counterparts are part of the Reserve Officer & Noncommissioned Officer Exchange Program, a Department of Defense program that provides Soldiers training associated with mobilization and enhancing their ability to work and communicate with soldiers of the host nation. As part of the program, foreign soldiers and their American counterparts spend two weeks in each country, training with units of the host country.

Through the time the partnering troops have spent together, they have come to see many similarities and differences.  All agreed they found more in common than different.  But most importantly they said they have developed an appreciation for their individual partners and the coalition forces.

In May, Command Sgt. Maj. Alan Ferris of the Winchester-based 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment attended training in Cyprus with his British partner, Sgt. Maj. Colin Perry of Company A, 3rd Battalion, Royal Welsh Regiment, a reserve component in Wrexham, Wales, May 4-18, 2013.

Ferris and Perry agreed that both forces are very similar on how they conduct tactical operations but there is a noticeable difference in rank structure. Perry’s rank of sergeant major is a chief warrant officer 2 grade, and his responsibilities are that of an american first sergeant.

Despite the difference in ranks, the military culture of officers and NCOs are very similar, said Perry. The American idiom of NCOs being the backbone of the Army holds true in the U.K. as well.

Also visiting from the U.K. were Staff Sgt. John Bailey and Staff Sgt. Matt Albrighton of the 116th Provost Company, 4th Regiment Royal Military Police in Cannock, England. In September, their partners, Staff Sgt. Michael Spaulding and Master Sgt. Raul Viera, respectively, of the military police platoon, Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion will attend training with the 116th Provost Company in Germany.

Even though the two British MPs had served around American troops during their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, they said this has been a much more involved and personal experience.

The mission and objectives are the same, but execution maybe different, said Albrighton.  “Our operations move much faster but there is also a lot more of you.”

Currently there are approximately 130,000 active and reserve British soldiers and more than 350,000 Army National Guardsmen.

“The size of your army, real estate, and all the equipment you’ve got provides a very different perspective and it’s an experience just to see all that,” said Bailey.

“It’s been interesting to hear that they have the same ups and downs as we do, but the best part has been watching our Soldiers interact with them,” said Spaulding.

During their training in Germany, the MPs will go in to field, out on ranges, and wrap up with adventure training, which could be sailing, mountain biking, or rock climbing.

“The idea behind adventure training is that it takes you out of your comfort zone, boosts self-confidence, and promotes team-building,” said Bailey.

“I hope that we can show them as good of a time when they come to see us in September,” said Albrighton.

All four of the foreign exchange servicemembers took tours of the nation’s capital and local historical sites during their stay here.  Part of the program is a cultural experience, sharing our national treasures with one another, said Spaulding.

German 1st Lt. Sven Donner, executive officer of the 2nd Ranger Mountain Support Battalion 8 in Füssen, Germany, an active-duty component of the German Army, partnered with 1st Lt. Daniel Kweon-Lee, executive officer of the Richmond-based Company B, 429th Brigade Support Battalion.

Kweon-Lee flew to Germany for two weeks of training with Donner’s unit in May and participated in a new training program for German soldiers that focuses on moving and shooting their rifle and pistol at short distances in order to perform in the modern urban combat environment.

“We were training at 2,000 meters above sea-level along with the Rangers that the forward supply company supports,” said Kweon-Lee.  “They trained long and hard, but maintained a priority on soldier care.”

The first sergeant, which they often refer to as “mutter,” or mother, often rewards soldiers after tough training missions, said Kweon-Lee.

Donner recalled that when he first arrived at the airport in the United States he was shocked when people approached him to thank him for his service.

“That doesn’t happen in Germany, people are more cold and your service is your job, just like a factory worker.  It was different and a very nice moment for me.”

“The structure and motivation are very similar,” said Donner.  “The gap is not as big as you might think. There is no good or bad, just different.”

All of the foreign exchange soldiers said they enjoyed shooting the variety of the weapons systems that the brigade had to offer, including the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon and M281 .50-caliber machine gun.

“But the best part for me isn’t just all the equipment, rappelling, and shooting, the real highlight has been the interaction with the soldiers,” said Bailey. “They’ve been really welcoming and looked after us really well.”

“I don’t feel like a guest, but a comrade, which is how it should be with coalition forces,” said Donner.  “In a foxhole rank and nationality don’t matter.”