Sunday, June 29, 2014

Multinational partners conduct field-training exercise in Mongolia

FIVE HILLS TRAINING AREA, Mongolia -- Nestled in a grass-covered valley surrounded by a panoramic view of rolling hills and low mountains lined with skyward-reaching rock formations, covered by an expansive sky that seems to go on forever, the Five Hills Training Area of the Mongolian Armed Forces came to life with the arrival of Soldiers for the Field Training Exercise (FTX) portion of Khaan Quest 2014 that began June 20.

KQ14 is a regularly scheduled, multinational exercise co-sponsored by U.S. Army, Pacific, and hosted annually by Mongolian Armed Forces (MAF). KQ14 is the latest in a continuing series of exercises designed to promote regional peace and security. Approximately 1,000 service members from 24 nations are participating in this 12th iteration of the exercise.

The FTX portion of the exercise focuses on peacekeeping operations and provides personnel with riot control training, small boat operations, and survival training, as well as numerous events designed to broaden the cultural awareness of the international participants.

For many, the training days begin with physical fitness training; the nearby parade grounds and fields adorned with various colored workout uniforms from different nations’ participants. Outside the collective-camp area, groups of three or four runners can be seen jogging across the view as the sun crests over the hills.

Under the clouded June sky, herds of cattle, horses and sheep graze placidly. With the precision of a clock, the low, grey clouds promise the timely afternoon showers to come.

After a breakfast of traditional Mongolian dishes in a dining facility filled with the multicultural voices of different languages, the FTX participants split into their respective groups and move to one of the multiple ranges for their class of the day. Each day, the groups rotate to another lane, another training experience.

The lane instructors, made up of as many nationalities as the students, work together teaching different techniques in a mutual share of experience and doctrine.

“My lane has eight instructors from seven different nations,” said Capt. Seiko B. an instructor with the Peace Support Operations Training Center, Mongolian Armed Forces. “These guys are experts and are working together very well.”

On Seiko’s range, beneath an open pavilion, he and the other instructors teach the students how to properly conduct checkpoint security. The course begins with a PowerPoint presentation; Mongolian and U.S. service members listen in as each segment is taught, alternating between Mongolian and English.

“We start first with a PowerPoint presentation, giving all of our students a basic idea about what a checkpoint is, how it is to be set up, to give everybody a basic understanding of what a checkpoint is and how it is working,” said instructor Master Sgt. Alex Kettrel, a training sergeant with the German United Nations Training Center, German Department of the Army.

The students watch, listen, and nod as the instructors give examples on a sand table, a model of the area in which they will later conduct the training. There on the miniature checkpoint, Kettrel and Seiko show the students where they should be positioned during the exercise and discuss how to react in different scenarios.

“We conduct sand table training showing the people specifics on how to set up on our lane, going through a couple of scenarios and going through a couple of options of how to deal with those scenarios,” said Kettrel. “Later, we will show people how to do a body search and a vehicle search and how to deal with crowd riots. After that, we will go out to a lane and do some role playing, putting people in those scenarios.”

Out on the lane, members of the Mongolian Armed Forces take their positions manning the gate, the nearby bunkers, and with two sentries posted forward of the gate. Outside the gate, role players take turns challenging the students in different scenarios.

In one scenario, a man walks to the gate, a simulated unexploded bomb in his hands. The gate guards, seeing this, direct the man to place the unexploded ordnance in a safe area and alert their command. All the while, the instructors mark the performance into their notebooks in order to give feedback after the training cycle is complete.

After the Mongolians’ turn, their U.S. counterparts take their turn. In the first scenario, a group of people approach, firing AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles into the air. The moment is tense, as they radio for backup. The group, however, does not act in a threatening manner, and though alerted by the situation the soldiers maintain a safe posture, allowing the group to pass by.

In the after action review, the instructors inform the U.S. participants that the group was celebrating a wedding and were firing their weapons into the sky as is tradition in some cultures. They were right to let them pass.

A common theme that exists throughout the FTX is the need to learn to overcome language and culture barriers, especially when working with multinational forces in operational environments where communication is key.

“It’s a little rough in the mornings with translation,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Callahan, a combat medic section noncommissioned officer with Headquarter and Headquarters Troop, 1st Battalion, 297th Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron (Cavalry), Alaska Army National Guard. Callahan is an instructor with the combat first aid lane. “It takes a lot longer than we had anticipated for some of the slideshows, but the MAF forces really picked up on all the treatments well.”

On the combat first aid lane, the students are taught how to provide care to wounded individuals in hostile situations.
“We’re bringing the peacekeeping forces through, giving them a morning’s worth of introductory training in tactical combat casualty care, evaluating a casualty and casualty movements,” said Callahan. “Then they run through a squad exercise on taking casualties, providing care at the site of the injury, evacuating the casualties back to the safe area and then calling in a nine-line medevac.”

After the initial training, the students leave their tent for a patrol, the hot summer sun looming midday over their heads. Behind the squad, Callahan walks along as they patrol the perimeter of the area. The MAF patrol forms into a tactical formation, each scanning the surrounding area for potential risks.

A car approaches the squad, and the point man calls his patrol to a halt. He flags the vehicle’s driver to stop and signals the occupants to get out. Another MAF soldier assists the point man as he questions the driver, checks his identification, and searches the vehicle. After surmising that the occupants of the car are not a threat, they allow the vehicle to continue past, and the patrol continues along their route.

The patrol is suddenly cut short, when a simulated improvised explosive device detonates along the side of the road. Role players, acting as civilians, lay across the road, screaming and writhing in pain. Due to the notional size and proximity of the improvised explosive device (IED), the instructors inform three of the squad members that they too are casualties.

The squad springs into action, with some of the members dropping to the ground, providing security as others grab their medical kits and begin treating the wounded. Confusion and a sense of panic seems to set in, as more of their squad are suddenly cut down by simulated sniper fire. The remaining squad members begin to evacuate the wounded back to their camp, to begin treating them from a safe location.

Inside the tent the role player victims, scream in agony as tourniquets and bandages are applied. Some of the victims now lay lifeless on the ground, as others beg for help. The MAF participants scramble to treat the wounded as the tent fills up.

The instructors call out for the group to index, which stops the action. The students then gather outside to have their performance critiqued by the instructors.

“They’re doing really well,” said Callahan. “They’re picking everything up pretty quickly. The MAF forces really picked up on all the treatments well, the nine-line (medevac) went really smoothly, they’re doing great with casualty movements. It’s been fun.”

Within earshot of the combat first aid lane, the sound of screaming carried across the range; the fight was on.

Each day, after the morning’s instructional class, participants of the riot control lane dress in protective gear, adorned with Plexiglas riot shields, helmets with facemasks, and wooden batons. The students practice takedown techniques, how to maintain and move as a line, how to perform a snatch and grab, how to deal with demonstrators coming through the line, and discuss techniques in negotiation.

Afterwards, the students engage in a scenario where they protect a U.N. building from a mob of protesters.

“The final part is taking everything learned throughout the day from getting online and being able to step together, and if you have to go through the line and snatch somebody that’s an instigator, and putting it all together,” said Sgt. 1st Class Albert Burns, the readiness noncommissioned officer for Bravo Troop, 1st Battalion, 297th Reconnaissance and Surveillance Squadron, Alaska Army National Guard. “They’re defending the U.N. building from a crowd, and it escalates out so they can use those tactics together.”

In a mixed line, with alternating Mongolian and U.S. personnel, the riot control team stood ready to defend against the mob of role players. The demonstrators, armed with water bottles as simulated rocks, jeered at the riot control team.

As the mob approached, the line advanced, two steps at a time. The mob responded by rushing the line, crashing into the shields, fighting to break through. Smoke bombs were set off, and the attack was on.

Using the techniques they learned, the riot control team identified who the leader of the role players was, and sent the snatch-and-grab team into action. The line opened up and the team charged from the back, grabbed their man, and dragged him back and cuffed him while the line closed behind them, pushing the rest of the crowd back, eventually wearing the demonstrators down until the mob backed down from the assault.

“It was outstanding training,” said Spc. Michael Shipton, an infantryman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 143rd (Airborne) Infantry Regiment, Alaska Army National Guard. “It was a lot to learn. We got a chance to work with counterparts from other countries, and it was a good exercise for us and for them to work together for future deployments and training exercises.”

Among the other lanes of the FTX, the multinational group of participants also practices convoy operations, survival training, and cordon and search techniques.

At the end of each day, the participants return to the collective camp; a multicultural epicenter tucked away in the rolling hills of Mongolia. When KQ14 finishes, each participant will return home, taking with them not only a new or enhanced set of skills, but also new friendships and experiences, tied to the shared, cultural experience of working with our partners from around the world.

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