EDINBURGH, Scotland – South Dakota National Guardsmen are building a partnership with soldiers from the United Kingdom. Forty Guardsmen traveled to Great Britain Sept. 13-28 to participate in the Army National Guard’s Reciprocal Unit Exchange Program (RUE), where they had the opportunity to work with a foreign military.
Operating alongside U.K. regular Army and Territorial Army soldiers (Britain’s equivalent of a National Guard force), the Guardsmen trained on their vertical-engineering skills during the construction of a viewing walkway in northern Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park.
The goal of the RUE program is to gain an understanding of the training, doctrine and operations of a major alliance partner.
“It is both a cultural and doctrinal program, as it affords U.S. soldiers an opportunity to learn from our NATO partners,” said Col. Tim Moran, state training officer for the SDNG. “It prepares our leaders and soldiers to fully utilize troop leading procedures as they prepare for a deployment to a foreign country, ensure mission accomplishment and maintain the safety and accountability of their team.”
Reciprocal unit exchanges involve the mutual exchange of company-size or smaller National Guard elements with designated units from foreign nations. The program is designed to improve participant knowledge of organization, equipment, structure and operational doctrine of the nation’s reserve forces. Selected units perform the exchange in an annual training status.
Soldiers from the 153rd Engineer Battalion spent their two-week annual training working with British engineers from the 71 Engineer Regiment, where they constructed a 150-meter-long, 2-meter-wide viewing walkway for the park.
“The only real way to get into the park was by driving,” said 1st Lt. Kale Skogen, officer in charge of the Guard team. “The walkway creates a public access to the wildlife park for pedestrians.”
During the project, the soldiers dug post holes, set poles and framed and finished the walkway structure. The project was a unique learning opportunity.
“This was a great learning experience for our engineers,” said Skogen, who is also the executive officer for the 211th Engineer Company. “Only about five of our soldiers had any real carpentry experience, but the rest learned quickly and received great hands-on experience.”
The project only took 10 days to complete. Skogen said the British soldiers were amazed at the efficiency and progress made by the Guardsmen during the project.
“They were truly amazed at the progressive pace in which we were able to accomplish the task, especially with our lack of vertical-construction skilled workers,” said Skogen. “They admitted that their soldiers would have not been able to complete this task in the given time of 10 days.”
This project not only provides a benefit in enhancing work skills and coordination with a foreign military, but also provides a useful service to the public. Skogen said the project was ideal for the U.K. soldiers to help increase support with the British people.
“This was a high-publicity project where the public could see how the Army helps support its local community,” said Skogen. “The people in the park really appreciated it, and the more good things the British military can do in the community the better.”
Skogen feels the Guard is developing a good partnership with the Brits and would like to see more integration with them on future exchanges.
“Going forward, I would like to see more integration with their troops – our guys working on their crews and vice versa, but we definitely got a chance to see how they conduct business and their leadership style,” said Skogen. “The British were also very supportive and provided us with everything we needed to complete the project. They were very hospitable, courteous and made sure we were well taken care of.”
This most recent exchange with Great Britain is just one of several in the past two years with the SDNG.
In September 2012, 38 engineers from the 211th Engineer Company members traveled to Germany to train with New Castle, England’s 72 Engineer Regiment in the exercise Tyne Sapper 12. In June, about 50 members of the 72nd also participated in the SDNG’s annual Golden Coyote training exercise held in the Black Hills. The SDNG has also held several other reciprocal unit exchanges with military forces from Germany and Denmark.
“From an interoperability aspect, it is a valuable experience for our soldiers to be able to work alongside international soldiers – to learn their tactics and techniques, which differ slightly from ours,” said Moran. “It may mean life or death during a future overseas contingency operation.”
The ARNG annually executes RUEs with the United Kingdom and other European nations using Department of the Army Memorandums of Understanding currently in place with each country as the legal authority to execute. The program also supports the Secretary of Defense Security Cooperation Guidance and the Theater Security Cooperation Plan with each respective country.
Both Moran and Skogen feel the program gives Guard units an excellent training opportunity with our closest NATO allies and serves to strengthen partnerships for years to come.
“The relationships and training experiences that we have with all our foreign allies are extremely important for us now and the future,” said Moran. “It improves both organizations and makes us stronger and more relevant. It is and has been a great opportunity to train together and learn from each other in structured training exercises versus having to do it for the first time on the battlefield.”
“This trip really opened our eyes to working with another foreign nation and improved our trust and confidence in working with our nation’s ally,” said Skogen. “The British really took great care of us and also exposed us to some of their great culture, traditions and local scenery. It’s definitely a beneficial experience when you can work with a partner nation.”