Va. Guard CBRN Soldiers share knowledge, experience in Tajikistan

Personnel from the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense Chemical Biological Radiological chain of command and Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team conduct a State Partnership Exchange exchange on CBRN operations July 21, 2015, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (Contributed photo)

Personnel from the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense Chemical Biological Radiological chain of command and Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s 34th Civil Support Team conduct a State Partnership Exchange exchange on CBRN operations July 21, 2015, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. (Contributed photo)

SANDSTON, Va. – Soldiers from the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett-based 34th Civil Support Team shared their knowledge and experience in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations with personnel from the Tajikistan Ministry of Defense CBRN leadership during a State Partnership Program exchange held July 13-28, 2015, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.

“Each year, Virginia sends Soldiers and Airmen to the Republic of Tajikistan in order to conduct cultural, tactical and technical exchanges with various members of their military and civil authorities through the State Partnership Program, and we created informative briefings focusing on cultural and technical exchanges that encouraged open discussion and information flow,” explained Capt. Thomas Valentine, survey team leader with the 34th CST.

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 reinforce the knowledge, skills and attributes obtained during the past decade.

Valentine said they were greeted warmly by the MOD chain of command and the trip consisted of technical exchanges and capability briefings that focused on civilian HAZMAT response, U. S. military CBRN equipment capability and current CBRN threats around the world.

“The culminating event of this exchange resulted in a first-time site visit to the Tajikistan CBRN installation and a comprehensive review of their CBRN equipment and capability,” Valentine said.

The mission of the 34th CST is to support first responders in potential biological, chemical, nuclear, radiological and explosive incidents. The unit can identify chemical, biological, and radiological substances, assess current and projected consequences, advise an incident commander on response measures and assist with requests for additional state support. It is federally resourced, trained and sustained and operates under the control of state leadership. The Adjutant General of Virginia may employ the 34th CST to support the state response under the direction of the governor or to support another state’s response under a supported governor.

Valentine said he thinks the State Partnership Program makes a positive impact on the Tajikistan civil and military CBRN capability through cultural interaction and technical information exchange.

“Tajikistan’s civilian response capability to a HAZMAT incident has been significantly improved from previous exchange missions,” Valentine said. “This most recent exchange has paved the way for aligning their CBRN detection and response capability with that of the United States through equipment modernization and future CBRN training for their officers within the United States. Our CBRN counterparts blew me away in their knowledge and professionalism. One of their captains in particular was trained for over five years in Moscow specifically for CBRN and military tactics. He was a model officer for their country and a pleasure to work with.”

The trip also provided an opportunity to learn about Tajikistan food, culture and customs. “This successful visit has created the opportunity to broaden and enhance the engagement between the Virginia National Guard and our Tajikistan counterparts,” he said.

“Being given the opportunity to travel to Tajikistan as a representative of the Virginia National Guard and the CBRN Community has benefited me immensely,” he said. “From interacting with foreign nationals and communicating using interpreters to interacting with embassy staff, the list is endless.”

In addition to the military benefits, the experience in Tajikistan also had personal benefits as well.

“The State Partnership Program is an incredible opportunity for any Soldier or Airmen within the National Guard,” Valentine said. “You will gain cultural perspective and a newfound appreciation for what it is to be American. You will have the opportunity to learn new techniques from a people that often make use of less and achieve more. For many Soldiers, the trip to Tajikistan will be their first opportunity to go abroad and see more of the world, giving them an experience unlike any other.”

Other members of the team shared Valentine’s assessment.

“This trip benefited me because it allowed me, as a young Soldier, to be exposed to different cultural experiences and traditions other than those in the United States,” said Sgt. Christian Cooke. “Being able to see the population of Tajikistan celebrate Ramadan and Eid was an experience within itself. It also taught me how to effectively communicate with language barriers through the use of an interpreter, technology like smart phone applications for translation and also through simple drawings.”

Cooke said the biggest take away from this trip was learning how to cross a cultural and language barrier.

“I have been surrounded by English, and American customs my whole life,” he said. “Learning how to effectively communicate with the general public in the market was quite the task. Also learning so much about a different culture will only help make me become a more rounded Soldier and a more understanding person. My favorite part of this trip was going into the homes and celebrating Eid, the Islamic festival at the end of Ramadan. It was beneficial to be exposed to a different religion in an informal way, and I believe that helped me tremendously to get a better understanding of their culture. I learned that family and friends mean more to them than it does it most societies.”

Cooke’s advice to future participants in SPP exchanges would to not be hesitant to try new experiences.

“If you are given the chance to go there, go and put yourself in with the general public, and try their foods, ask questions, and get lost in all of the culture that you are surrounded by,” he said.

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 Virginia Guard Soldiers and hundreds of Tajik Soldiers have participated in the exchanges.