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Feature Stories

NEWS | June 27, 2019

Eight days in, Steppe Eagle 19 participants showing progress, interoperability

By Maj. Kevin Sandell U.S. Army Central

At the combined battalion headquarters for Exercise Steppe Eagle 19, a multinational staff of American, Kazakhstani, Tajikistani, Kyrgyzstani, and British soldiers sit side-by-side manning the intelligence, operations, logistics, and communication sections. Analog maps, updated tracking spreadsheets, and radios line the walls as hourly reports are received by each company command post.

The progressive training is promising, as eight days prior, many of the exercise’s participants learned key staff principles like the Army’s six warfighting functions: movement and maneuver, intelligence, fires, sustainment, mission command, and protection. With Steppe Eagle 19 concluding June 27, the exercise’s planners and training officers say they are confident in the participating nations’ growing capabilities.

“…The energy and the enthusiasm that [these countries] bring is just so much different,” said Capt. Kevin O’Brien, lead planner from the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division for Exercise Steppe Eagle 19. “The Kazakhstanis are asking questions. They’re learning, and they’re very proactive.”

Along with the nearly 100 U.S. Army participants, the United Kingdom, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan sent participants for the two-week peacekeeping exercise. India, Turkey, and Uzbekistan also sent observers. Steppe Eagle 19 is an annual U.S. Army Central-led exercise that enhances coalition interoperability and operational readiness, promotes regional access and security, and improves military cooperation in the Central and South Asia region.

The exercise started with a week-long academics phase, when participants learned trauma care, convoy operations, how to counter improvised explosive devices, and civil-military operations that included tasks such as public order, vehicle checkpoints, and cordon and search operations. In the second week, the five participating nations divided into company-sized elements comprised of three Kazakhstani platoons, a Tajikistani platoon augmented by a British squad, and an American platoon to apply lessons learned in a field training scenario. An American company commander took charge of the Americans, Tajikistanis, and British squad, and a Kazakhstani company commander directed all Kazakhstani forces.

O’Brien said the training built on basic military skills necessary for future missions. He emphasized that it was not specifically designed as pre-deployment training for any real-world mission. The training also fostered interoperability between the participating nations.

British Army Sgt. Rob Walisko, lead instructor for the public order training at Exercise Steppe Eagle 19, said that international peace and security hinges on the partnership among cooperating nations.

“We try to work under an international rules-based system, but to make that work, the troops on the ground have to be able to mesh together,” Walisko, a member of the 3rd Battalion of the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, said. “We share a common bond to make the world a better place.”

The British Army taught the public order training, an unfamiliar and often intimidating topic to many participants. However, as the week continued, the trainees’ progression and confidence were noticeable. Walisko said at the training’s onset, for example, a command to the Kazakhstani soldiers to draw batons and face the crowd was met by a hesitant Kazakhstani platoon commander’s, “Are you sure?” Just days later, that same Kazakhstani officer led his platoon on the last iteration and arrived en masse with greater confidence in his understanding of higher-level commands and instructions from other countries.

“I had to physically bring the crowd closer because they wanted to leave, but we had to keep the serial going as long as necessary. That crowd of soldiers was not scared of anything at that point,” Walisko said.

Sgt. Walisko added that the Kazakhstani soldiers started to decentralize their mission command procedures, which enabled lower-enlisted soldiers to gain leadership experience and accomplish a mission in accordance with the commander’s intent.

Team leaders and corporals were taking “a grip of their own men outside of the control of their officer to achieve their aim, and you can see that in these troops,” Walisko said.

For U.S. Army Capt. Brandon Teskey, Exercise Steppe Eagle 19 developed his Soldiers’ professional knowledge of international military cooperation and ensured that troop leading procedures were applied across the formation. The company commander of D Company, 1st Battalion 158th Infantry Regiment, Arizona Army National Guard, and native of Avondale, Arizona, deployed with 55 Soldiers and directed the Tajikistani platoon and British infantry squad during the exercise.

“I learned a lot about the culture in general, such as obstacles with multinational forces that have language barriers and working with interpreters; I’ve never done that before,” Teskey said. “I learned a lot about how the cultures differ and how we’re alike.”

Teskey emphasized his satisfaction with the company and said he was encouraged by the junior enlisted soldiers learning a lot while their noncommissioned officers led the way.

“I think my company performed very well, and it was good seeing the enlisted [soldiers] learn a lot and seeing the NCOs do an awesome job,” Teskey said. “There’s a reason they’re the backbone of the military.”

Capt. Teskey said that in his formation’s train-up for Steppe Eagle 19, instructors from Arizona State University taught Kazakhstani cultural awareness, language, and customs to the soldiers. The experience fostered an appreciation for working with multinational forces in an overseas environment.

The exercise planners and training coordinators reiterated the commitment of the U.S., UK, and partner nations in Central Asia to work collaboratively to improve regional stability and increase interoperability amongst all participating nations. They said that Kazakhstan continues to be a significant regional contributor to security and a recognized member of the international community, and all participating nations are proud partners that welcome opportunities like the Steppe Eagle exercise to achieve standardization in the performance of stabilization and peacekeeping to enforce an international rules-based order.

A closing ceremony is scheduled at nearby Illisky Training Area June 27, and will include senior defense officials from each of the participating nations. Last year’s Steppe Eagle exercise occurred in South Carolina near U.S. Army Central’s headquarters, and next year’s Steppe Eagle exercise is scheduled to occur in the United Kingdom.