Illisky Training Center, Kazakhstan-- A cool breeze blew across an open field and all was quiet until the sounds of an improvised explosive devise simulator broke the silence, sending soldiers from the Kazakhstani Peacekeeping Battalion right into action.
A team of medics from the Kazakhstan Peacekeeping Battalion quickly moved to the simulated casualty, practiced applying a tourniquet, and immediately moved him to the Helicopter Landing Zone to await MEDEVAC aircraft, all while overcoming their heavy personal equipment, the rough terrain and smoke.
The medical evaluation training lane, while realistic and challenging, also featured instructors and soldiers from the Kazakhstan Peacekeeping Operations Training Center, U.K. soldiers from the 1st Rifles Battalion, 160th Brigade, and Soldiers from the Arizona National Guard observing the training and discussing each nation's techniques for these types of scenarios during phase one of Steppe Eagle 16, April 11-22.
Steppe Eagle is a two phased, multinational training exercise that enhances partnership and interoperability between nations. This year, phase one was held at the Illisky Training Center in Kazakhstan with the second phase taking place in the U.K. in July.
"This [preparation event] is part of seven security cooperation events that support exercise Steppe Eagle," said Lt. Col. Brian Stephan, the U.S. Army Central training and exercise country desk officer for Kazakhstan. "This preparation, led by the Kazakhstani instructors and supported by the U.K. and U.S. Servicemembers will prepare them for the final event in July."
The event featured many events that helped build both capability and relationships between all soldiers, regardless of nation.
"These events make our friendship stronger," said Brig. Gen. Almas Dzhumakeyev, commander of Kazakhstani Airmobile Forces following a combined concert and talent show. "They bring us closer, meaning we will be much more effective in our future operations."
Among the U.S. participants was a contingent from the Arizona National Guard, who, through the National Guard's State Partnership Program, have the opportunity to work with Kazakhstan every year and have seen the development of the Kazakhstani force as well as the development of ongoing relationships between soldiers of each country.
"We've been coming here for a number of years now, and over that time we've seen a lot more blending of the force, playing sports and hanging out, in addition to the progress we've seen in their Soldiers," said Maj. Pete Garver, the operations officer for 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade and officer in charge of the Arizona contingent.
This event featured six days of situational training led by instructors from the peacekeeping operations center included base defense operations, convoy operations, helicopter operations, and patrolling. The overall event also included a sports day that featured friendly competition between the national contingents, and a three-day field training exercise that tested the peacekeepers' ability to operate in a realistic and dynamic environment.
During the situational training, the instructors from the peacekeeping operations center were appreciative of the expertise and additional point of views available to them.
"It's a good experience," said Capt. Asset Myrzabajev, an instructor at the peacekeeping operations center. "To have U.S. and U.K. Soldiers come to share their experiences and bring in new techniques and tactics from their deployments, it helps us to get better and better."
Sgt. Maj. Michael Gregory, the operations senior noncommissioned officer for 158th MEB has come to Kazakhstan for five years and has gained an appreciation for the improvements made by the Kazakhstan peacekeepers.
"We've seen steady improvement," said Gregory. "We are continuing to see development in their noncommissioned officer corps. They get better every year."
These improvements were evident during the culminating event, a three-day field training exercise designed test their ability to operate in a challenging environment.
"We've created a dynamic area for them to work in," said Cpt. Guy Walker, the recon platoon leader for 1st Rifles Bn., 160th Bde. "The key for this is that they understand the environment."
Lt. Col. Rob Fitch, a team leader from the 116th Military Engagement Team and partnered with the peacekeeping battalion commander, agreed and said that the peacekeepers have done a good job of gathering and sharing information which has helped them to understand the dynamics during this exercise.
Although the training and the overall event was mostly focused on military tasks and planning, many Servicemembers recognized there was more to learn and more to appreciate during events like this.
"There is a lot of sharing, but I think it's very important that we not only share military techniques but also culture," said Capt. Ruslan Bekturov, the peacekeeping battalion engineer. "We learn about life in the U.K. and U.S., and they learn about life here."