By: Todd Oliver
SLUNJ, Croatia - The sounds of Croatian and U.S. soldiers firing their weapons filled the air kicking off Exercise Immediate Response 2011 in Slunj, Croatia. The soldiers from 1st Platoon, Company B, 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry, Minnesota Army National Guard, patrolled alongside Croatian joint-tactical air controllers, as they conducted situational training exercises
As the convoy of approximately 10 vehicles conducted a slow-moving patrol through the training area, a simulated improvised explosive device followed by an attack with small arms, brought their progress to a grinding halt. It was no surprise to anyone on the patrol.
“Today’s training was about IED clearance,” said 2nd Lt. Brendan Morrison, platoon leader. “We’re given a mission to go down a certain route, and we’re told that there have been attacks there in recent days. So we went down the road, and we came across some pretty heavy resistance.”
This kind of training is standard fare for an infantryman in today’s Army. Mock patrols are conducted through a “rough area” which helps leaders and soldiers refine their skills should the attack ever be real. What sets this particular exercise apart is the multinational aspect. Along with the U.S. soldiers is a vehicle nothing like American high-mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicle carrying the Croatian JTACs. Each U.S. or Croatian platoon-sized, or larger, element has a small attachment of the other nationality with them, further refining the skills needed to operate together.
“We’ve been working with the Croatians for at least four or five years now,” Morrison said. “We’ve had a person here in Croatia with them since 1996 actually. We, along with the Croatians, are sending observer mentor liaison teams to Afghanistan to train the Afghan forces so they can become a better military. Our relationship with the Croatian military is very strong. They’re our allies, and the more friends we have in this world the better.”
Spc. Brandon Grabau, a squad automatic weapon gunner taking part in the exercise, said the opportunity to train with his Croatian counterparts is useful and unique.
“This is the first time I’ve ever worked with soldiers from another nation; actually this is the first time I’ve been out of the U.S.,” Grabau said. “It’s been pretty cool. They have a very interesting culture, and I’m learning a lot.”
“It’s a good thing because we get to see how they train; they can see how we train, and we both get to see the differences. They might do some things better than we do, and we might do something better than they do. If we can each learn something from the other that’s an improvement; we both get better.”
From the IED clearance lane, the platoon moved on to a small mock village where they practiced searching buildings room by room. Meanwhile, a Croatian platoon with a small U.S. JTAC team slowly began their patrol through the IED lane. Other training events included dismounted and mounted patrols and a cordon-and-search exercise. These situational training events move from the platoon level to a three-day company-level exercise simulating combat environment beginning June 13.
Immediate Response is a multinational exercise that includes more than 1,000 participants from across U.S. Army Europe; Texas, Minnesota and Utah National Guards, the United States Air Force and service members from Croatia, Montenegro, Germany, Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia and Serbia. Croatia has had service members deployed in support of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan since 2003. There are currently more than 300 Croatian service members serving in Afghanistan.
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