JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
In the early 90s, seeking to address the security challenges of the 21st century, the National Guard Bureau proposed a program that teams different nations of the world with the National Guards of the 52 states and territories.
The State Partnership Program facilitates international cooperation through operational exercises and training events. Almost three decades after inception, the state partnership program has maintained 85 successful partnerships with 93 countries. Among those is the mutually beneficial relationship between the Alaska National Guard and the Mongolian Armed Forces and Mongolian disaster response agencies.
Since 2003, the AKNG and Mongolian agencies have cooperated in peacekeeping exercises and disaster simulations. Most recently, the relationship between the entities manifested in Gobi Wolf 2022, an international exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Training in Gobi Wolf over the years has ranged from subject matter expert exchanges on cold weather operations and disaster resource logistics to simulated infrastructure failures and a massive earthquake 400 miles into the high plateau of the South Khanghai mountains.
Alaska Army National Guard Maj. Nathan Pooler, branch chief of Plans and Operations, Joint Force Headquarters, has coordinated and planned AKNG’s involvement in Gobi Wolf for the last four iterations and joined as a facilitator this year. What makes the partnership so effective, according to Pooler, is the interpersonal scale in which the AKNG and Mongolian agencies can interact.
“Mongolia has a diplomatic relationship with the U.S. but on a national scale the connections can be pretty broad,” said Pooler. “However, between the AKNG and Mongolia, the relationships are reinforced year after year and sometimes between the same people.”
It’s similarities to Alaska – the long winters, vast distances and varied topography – that make Mongolia an ideal location for service members of both nations to train.
Maj. Chelsea Aspelund, gender advisor for the AKNG and 176th Wing’s chief of public affairs, said that while participating in GW 22 she could see the merit in this specific partnership.
“This year’s exercise focused on responding to an earthquake and that’s something many Alaskans have first-hand experience in,” Aspelund explained. “The AKNG participating in training opportunities in Mongolia gives our Guardsmen the opportunity to share their experience and learn from others.”
In total, nine members of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard presented expert academic discussions and facilitated training lanes on subjects such as public information, critical infrastructure recovery, casualty evacuation via a helicopter, basic fire fighter exchange and hazardous material operations.
For her portion facilitating the exercise, Aspelund led an expert academic discussion on Women, Peace and Security, a United Nations resolution that was unanimously adopted in 2000. International participants discussed gender equity in HA/DR and the incorporation of gender perspectives in first responder and incident management teams for the first time during a Gobi Wolf exercise.
Aspelund led the discussion that touched on how relief provided during an emergency can vary depending on the gender of the recipient. Such disparities make conversations centered on WPS critical in training for disaster preparedness and relief, she said.
“The State Partnership Program gives us the opportunity to start the thought process early,” Aspelund continued. “It allows for a culturally developed perspective. Exercise participants can dig deep and look at their own culture and challenge their norms to determine how to best refine their emergency response.”
The collaboration extended beyond the conference room when exercise participants from around the world took to the field to train each other in hazmat decontamination, search and rescue, and mass medical care.
“We spent a lot of time discussing command and control using a different system from them,” said Tech Sgt. Ryan Smith, a fire protection crew chief in the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron and exercise facilitator. “This section was particularly engaging, as I learned it wasn’t that far off from what they already have in place. Their command structure is a little different, but the practices are similar.”
Airman 1st Class Colin Corsetti, 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, was a facilitator for the field exercises in the hazmat lane. Corsetti said that prior to departing for Mongolia he looked forward to presenting what he knew in a completely different environment.
“I was hoping to have a chance to demonstrate some of my ability in the field,” Corsetti said. “I was able to present as part of the weeklong exchange and learned how to work through an interpreter. Overall, I was able to teach what I know and gained valuable experience in communicating in an intercultural setting.”
By strengthening bonds and learning from each other, Mongolians and Alaska Guardsmen enhance interoperability, better preparing them for the day of an actual disaster.
“Alaska has many skilled people eager to train abroad to learn and exchange what they know in emergency response,” said Corsetti. “Anything that increases the chance that lives are saved or disasters averted is well worth the time and effort.”
Gobi Wolf 2022 is part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange program, which focuses on interagency coordination and foreign humanitarian assistance.
Approximately 40 U.S. military and civilian participants including experts from the active duty and reserve components of U.S. Army Pacific and Pacific Air Forces, Alaska and Washington National Guards, U.S. Forest Service, and Alaska’s City of Palmer Fire and Rescue, as well as exercise planning and facilitations from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s Institute for Security Governance participated in the exercise held in Bayankhongor Province, Mongolia, Sept. 5-10.