News: NC Guard officer exchange offers chance to share skills, know-how
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Frank Marquez
FORT PICKETT, Va. – Two young officers from opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean spent 28 days together learning more from each other about the explosive ordnance disposal field: though some things were similar, they found others were distinctly different.
Both 1st Lt. Lindsey Blare, 26, and United Kingdom Lt. Chris T. Paul, 27, participated in the Reserve Officer Foreign Exchange Program in May and June.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Reserve Affairs) initiated the Reserve Officer exchange with a memorandum of understanding negotiated between the German Ministry of Defense in 1985 and with the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense in 1989.
Though, the program is open to training with any allied country.
“I had never been to any of the countries listed,” said Blare, an ordnance officer who serves with the North Carolina National Guard. “So, it was an opportunity for travel and professional development — the chance to learn something new about EOD in another country.”
The program primarily tries to find a rough equivalent match based upon branch and skill specialty.
“Yet in one case, a signal guy switched with a transportation guy, which didn’t marry up as perfectly as ours did,” said Blare.
To prepare for the exchange, Blare attended a partnership orientation event in Little Rock, Ark. Those attending the training consisted of junior enlisted soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and warrant and field grade officers.
For their exchange, Blare and Paul spent two weeks stateside in the latter part of May, followed by a two-week break. The two wrapped up training during a fortnight in the United Kingdom.
“I think we’re both trying to achieve similar things during this exchange,” said Paul, a high-threat search adviser with the Royal Engineers, 101st Engineer Regiment, which is a unit based in the village of Saffron Waldon northwest of London. “In terms of absorbing as much culture as possible, and seeing the host country, particularly in the EOD world, there’s a thousand different ways to achieve the same effect. It’s interesting to observe how the equipment, tactics and techniques vary. We have similar systems, but on the same note, they are also significantly different, yet with the same mentality.”
Blare, whose hometown is Jacksonville, N.C., enlisted into motor transport. She has been an ordnance officer with the 430th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company in Washington, N.C., for a year and a half.
“I wanted the T-shirt,” she said, making light of why she joined the bomb tech fraternity. “Improvised explosive devices, adventure, excitement — take your pick. I wanted something different. It’s a challenge.”
Paul, just one month prior to his visit to Fort Pickett, returned home from his first deployment. His hometown, Weymouth, located on the south coast of England is not unlike many of the small towns dotting the North Carolina landscape.
He spent seven months at Forward Operating Base Price in central Helmand province, Afghanistan, during most of 2012 and his expertise, which came from that experience, was lent to 430th EOD’s annual training in June.
“I have been reassured that the founding principles are the same: staying safe, getting the job done as quickly as possible,” Paul said. “But for me, a rank or soldier anywhere in the world is just as motivated. It’s the troops that get the work done, and manage the management.”
Likewise, Blare recently returned from deployment after nine months in Qatar.
“We landed in Kuwait at the end of June 2012, and I was kicked out to Qatar immediately after that. We returned [to North Carolina] in late March 2013.”
The Reserve Officer Foreign Exchange Program invites officers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark to travel overseas to learn from allied counterparts.
Blare was one of 120 National Guard officers chosen from across the country.
In 2013, 50 soldiers visited the U.K., 30 went to Germany, and the remainder to Denmark. Selection is based on military occupational specialty (MOS), duty status and a commander’s recommendation.
Blare said the role of host was “less about mentoring and more about being an exposure guide.”
“I pictured this big industrial mass of really tall buildings. Instead, we end up at Fort Pickett, which I think is larger than any of the British garrisons,” said Paul, who explained the partner exchange as a straight job swap. “I certainly wouldn’t want to come out to America and do live EOD tasks within Central America.”
Blare returned from the U.K. near the end of June. During her two weeks in the U.K., she spent one week with the 221st EOD Company of the British Territorial Army, their version of the Guard/Reserves.
“As their EOD falls under the Royal Engineers, we spent that week doing basic soldier and engineering tasks, including qualifying on the SA-80 rifle, watermanship, and bridging,” Blare said. “I spent the second week at the IED-defeat school training on postal or mail IEDs, and improvised munitions used by the IRA.”
Blare said the terrorist component of training was strikingly different.
“We train for terrorist threats ‘out there’ when we’re deployed, whereas the [U.K. soldiers] face the consistent IRA threat on their home soil,” she said.
As an EOD officer, Blare was privileged to take part in training she would not have otherwise received in the United States.
“For example, during watermanship, we built an improvised raft and had to paddle against a current hoping our raft would stay together. It did, but we still got very wet,” she said. “Also, I spent a day on a range with a separate weapon system, as well as worked in the British bomb suit, both of which were similar and yet distinctly different from our versions.”
Back in Raleigh, N.C., Blare, in her full-time job, works in the distributive learning section at Joint Force Headquarters, where she manages online training, and distance learning classrooms across the state, as well as the state’s Training Aids, Devices, and Simulations program.
Blare said she would participate in the exchange program again, and encourages other soldiers to try it as well.
“I feel that I gained an invaluable amount of knowledge and cultural exposure from my trip, and met peers that I feel confident I could work with in the field,” she said.
For more information, visit http://ra.defense.gov/programs/rtm/overview.html.