PHOENIX - A contingent of Arizona Army National Guard soldiers that participated in the multi-national Exercise Steppe Eagle 12 in support of the Republic of Kazakhstan's elite Air Mobile Brigade is now poised for certification as a United Nations peacekeeping force.
Steppe Eagle, hosted by the Kazakhstan Government, is an annual exercise focused on training the Air Mobile Brigade to meet international NATO standards. The exercise was from Sept. 1-22, 2012.
This year, 11 nations were represented at the Camp Illisky Training Area, about 30 miles from the historical capital city of Almaty.
Military members from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Ukraine, United States, United Kingdom, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan, and Switzerland observed every aspect of the exercise which included comprehensive training scenarios for the Kazakh Air Mobile forces. Kazakh units were involved in emergency response, peacekeeping and security duties, and other full spectrum operations aimed at enhancing interoperability and mutual understanding. Additionally, all NATO forces participated in sports and cultural activities to further enhance cultural appreciation.
Army Col. John Burk served as officer in charge of the 17-member Arizona contingent. Burk, a National Guard member, is commander of Arizona's 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade. His professional and military experience made him well suited to oversee Arizona's mission of "providing relevant and timely operational evaluations and feedback of the various echelons within the Kazakh Brigade."
Arizona Guard members provided guidance to Kazakh brigade and battalion staffs, assisting them with current operations, orders development and production. Evaluations of all echelons of the Kazakh brigade and battalion were provided as an assessment of their interoperability with other forces including a U.S Army infantry company and a platoon from the Tajikistan Army.
Burk stated that "Steppe Eagle and multilateral exercises like it are critical to our partner nations developing the skills and understanding necessary to participate in peacekeeping and other contingency operations they may encounter."
During the last 20 years, Arizona and Kazakhstan have regularly exchanged personnel in an effort to foster personal and professional relationships, exchange ideas and improve interoperability to the mutual benefit of both armed forces.
"While primarily a military exercise that seeks to bring all participants to a greater level of proficiency in the profession of arms, Steppe Eagle has established itself as a showcase event highlighting the best of international diplomacy and capacity building to promote peace," said Burk.
Within weeks of returning to Arizona, Burk was contacted by the Greater Phoenix Chapter of People to People International. The timing was fortuitous, as PTPI was hosting an Open World Leadership Delegation sponsored by the Rumsfeld Foundation and Johns Hopkins University. One of the delegates was from Kazakhstan.
PTPI Greater Phoenix Chapter spokeswoman Ruth Allen said "an emphasis of the program...is to learn how different community, public and private organizations work to promote peace in a civil society."
Allen cited the 20-year success story of the Arizona-Kazakhstan collaboration of the National Guard's State Partnership Program and saw the value in having the delegation meet with the Arizona National Guard leadership to learn about the partnership. Burk, along with Brig. Gen. Jose Salinas, who is responsible for Arizona's partnership with Kazakhstan, welcomed the opportunity.
In late October, Allen and the delegates were treated to a personal briefing at Arizona National Guard headquarters in Phoenix. The delegates, representing Afghanistan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, were presented with detailed information about the Arizona National Guard's efforts to provide expertise and mentoring to Kazakh personnel not only in the military but also to their first/emergency responders.
Burk observed that, "interaction between delegates and partnership personnel was open and easy, resulting in an extraordinary exchange of information."
This presentation so impressed the delegates that Allen said, "it was the number one event that the group found most interesting and well done."
David Soumbadze, a Rumsfeld Foundation ambassador who accompanied the PTPI delegation, said the visit with the Arizona National Guard "was definitely the highlight of [our] visit to Phoenix."
Allen said the delegates "were impressed with the openness, transparency and hospitality...of all those involved."
The Arizona Guard troops welcomed the chance to share their experiences personally, and were warmly received by the delegates. Guardsmen and delegates agreed the exchange was productive, personal, and made great strides towards peace and international diplomacy.