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NCOs Build Bonds in Ukraine

By Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes 114th Public Affairs Brigade

August 1, 2016

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A U.S. Soldier hands simulated explosives to a Ukrainian soldier to use during training. Both were acting as Observer Controller Trainers during exercise Rapid Trident 16 July 5, 2016. The exercise is a regional command post and field training exercise that involves about 2,000 Soldiers from 13 different nations, being held at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, Ukraine June 27 – July 8, 2016. (Photo by Sgt. 1st. Class Whitney Hughes / U.S. Army)

At most U.S. combat training centers, Observer Controller Trainers are as much a part of the landscape as the trees; they simply come with the territory. However, for Ukrainian soldiers at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center, working with these seasoned trainers is a new experience. By the end of their time training together, whether it is for a two-week exercise like Rapid Trident 16 or a three-month rotation with the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine, both the U.S. and Ukraine Soldiers leave with a better understanding of each other. Improving the Ukrainian soldiers’ combat skills was the OCTs main focus; however they had a second: to empower the NCOs. This was a goal not just for their Ukrainian counterparts, but also for their own junior NCOs.

“Our junior NCOs have really been leading the way, and empowering them to get up in front of foreign soldiers and teach has really built up their confidence,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Bastanzi, a platoon leader with the 3-15th training team. “Some of the (Ukrainian) units have been very receptive to the way we empower our junior leaders, and we’ve seen them step up and do the same thing.”

This group of OCTs with the 3-15th is here for a six-month rotation in support of JMTG-U. Their mission is to shadow the unit’s training and evaluate their performance. They do this by highlighting their successes and explaining how to improve their shortcomings in After Action Reviews.

A Ukrainian soldier writes down names of people attempting to enter an entry control point from a U.S. Soldier acting as an Observer Controller Trainer during exercise Rapid Trident 16 July 5, 2016.  (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Whitney Hughes / U.S. Army)

Another technique they put to use is the competitive nature of the Soldiers. Bastanzi explained that the Ukrainian soldiers would want to know who did the best at the end of each day’s training, so they used this to help intensify the training.

“It’s a short term reward right then and there. They get bragging rights for that day, and then the next day somebody else gets a shot,” Bastanzi said.

“They are very professional, and they explained everything so that it is very easy for us and it’s very understandable,” said Ukrainian Squad Leader Ihor Andryucha, who has been training with the 3-15th OCTs for the last two months.

Andryucha added that, at first, when they began their rotation, they thought that the training would be simple, and they already knew it all. But they realized later when they moved from individual and squad tactics to battalion level that the OCTs were moving step by step through the training, which he said was very helpful.

In addition to the 3rd ID trainers that are working directly with the Soldiers one-on-one, there are also other U.S. OCTs that are working at the next level to “train the trainer.” This means that instead of working directly with the Ukrainian soldiers or leadership, they are working with the Ukrainian OCTs to help them become better trainers. But no matter what level at which they are training, the goal of improving tactics and relationships among the nations does not change.

“We’ve built a bond with the platoons we are training with and alongside, and hearing them say ‘I’ll never forget what you taught me,’ gives a sense of pride,” Bastanzi said.

Andryucha echoed this sentiment, saying that when they are replaced in a few days with the next rotation, “It will leave a gap that cannot be filled.”