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NEWS | June 11, 2018

Army Reserve Soldiers join forces in annual multi-component exercise to train Mexican Army

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell 76th Operational Response Command

Nearly 30 Mexican Army Soldiers have spent the last several days here getting hands-on training and experience with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) equipment as Soldiers from all three components of the U.S. Army joined forces to train, assist and supervise them as part of exercise Fuerzas Amigas June 2-12.

Each year Soldiers from the Mexican Army travel to the United States to participate shoulder to shoulder in training activities with American Soldiers. The training provides them insight into how the American forces operate, while providing U.S. Soldiers with exposure to the challenges of working with international forces. It also seems to foster team building between the two nations.

“Fuerzas Amigas is an annual U.S. Northern Command theater security cooperation exercise,” said Maj. Jose Collado, an exercise planner assigned to U.S. Army North. “It’s really a program that is one of the many tools we have to work with Mexico to foster our friendship with our border neighbors. It’s an opportunity for us to grow as partner nations in all aspects of training, friendship and understanding to help foster cameraderie and understanding of cultural differences and how each other operates.”

The first day of the Fuerzas Amigas exercise was spent with both U.S. and Mexican Soldiers getting to know each other. They also took the opportunity to show one another the CBRN equipment and chemical protective suits and gear that each nation currently uses in response to a chemical or other related event. 

The morning of day two was spent in the classroom where CBRN subject matter experts from the U.S. Army Reserve’s 76th Operational Response Command along with interpreters from the Active component and National Guard took time to explain a variety of chemical detecting equipment currently in the U.S. arsenal and how they are utilized in a chemical environment. 

That afternoon, the Mexican Soldiers were taken to an urban training site where they were able to witness first hand Michigan Army National Guard Soldiers from the 460th Chemical Company, 210th Military Police Battalion, as they conducted a realistic training scenario which included finding, surveying and sampling substances in an enemy chemical lab, as well as setting up a decontamination station.

“I’m very happy being able to observe and participate in this exercise, as we train together with the U.S. forces,” said the officer-in-charge of the Mexican Army Soldiers, who for security reasons wished to remain anonymous. “It helps to strengthen our understanding of how the U.S. Soldiers conduct CBRN operations and what equipment they use. We can now take that knowledge back with us to secure our own equipment and conduct our own training.”

The Mexican Soldiers not only got to observe the CBRN training, but on day three, they integrated into the training lanes with the National Guard Soldiers learning all aspects of setting up a decontamination station, decontamination procedures, using chemical detecting equipment, and conducting dismounted chemical reconnaissance operations.

“I can’t wait to go home and tell everyone I got to train with the Mexican Army,” said Army National Guard Soldier Pvt. Ericka Chatmon, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist and native of Jackson, Michigan, assigned to the 460th Chem. Co, 210th MPBN. “They (Mexican Soldiers) are so funny and intuitive. They are really eager to learn and they practice everything we taught them on their own. I love it.”

Although beneficial to both nations, the training hasn’t come without it’s own set of unique challenges. “The language barrier has definitely been the biggest challenge with this training event,” said Sgt. Craig Koenigs, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the trainers from the 76th ORC, and native of Lomira, Wisconsin. “Having interpreters with us has been helpful and overall I think the training has gone really well. It has definitely given the young Soldiers a good opportunity to work with another culture and allowed them to learn how to fully integrate the Mexican Soldiers into their mission. I think both the Mexican Soldiers and Michigan National Guard Soldiers are learning a lot from each other.”

More training is scheduled over the course of the next few days as the Mexican Soldiers continue to build their CBRN skills by working shoulder to shoulder with the Michigan National Guard Soldiers. As the days progress, they will take on more responsibility for operations during the training lanes and get more hands-on training with the CBRN equipment and procedures. A ten-mile forced march, as well as a cultural day are also planned for the remainder of the Mexican Soldiers visit.

“Exercises like these aren’t really touted that much,” said Collado. “But we have a very strong relationship with the Mexican Army and Mexico. Despite what the political field may look like between our two countries, we in the military forces see each other as brothers in arms and exercises like this help strengthen our bond every time we train together.”