By Cpl. Janessa Pon, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, PacificMay 30, 2016
FIVE HILLS TRAINING CENTER, Mongolia -- As the wind howls through the valley, a sea of brown camouflage gathers around a team of U.S. and Canadian Army instructors who contend with the elements to teach their students how to win the battle against improvised explosive devices and mines.
A platoon of soldiers from the Mongolian Armed Forces participated in the minefield self-extraction training lane, May 25, during the multinational peacekeeping exercise Khaan Quest 2016 near Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
The training prepared MAF members for an upcoming United Nations peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, where threats such as minefields are common.
With temperature dropping 20 degrees colder than the day prior, and winds gusting to 35 mph, MAF soldiers huddled together in a flapping classroom tent and listened intently to classes taught by U.S and Canadian explosive ordnance experts who were nearly yelling to be heard over the wind.
"We're equipping the MAF with the skills necessary to counter improvised explosive devices and stay safe while executing peacekeeping missions," said Army Sgt. Andy Hicks, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the 388th Clearance Company, 841st Engineer Battalion. "They are learning how to get out safely if they find themselves in a minefield, which is sometimes common in areas where peacekeeping missions take place."
After the classes, the soldiers filed outside and mounted vehicles that took them to a simulated minefield and executed the practical application portion of their training.
The instructors led them through scenarios such as identifying mines, properly marking locations of mines or unexploded ordnance, and probing for mines using issued gear as well as repurposed everyday objects.
A common thread through all the training lanes during Khaan Quest is the new experiences of each service member and the adjustments to operating in a foreign land.
According to MAF 1st Lt. B. Enkhtuvshin, a lot of the members of the armed forces around the world are out of their element in Mongolia.
"The weather is a little crazy out here and many times you can see all four seasons in one day," said MAF 1st Lt. B. Enkhtuvshin. "The Americans as well as service members from many other nations have had to embrace a lot of cultural differences here. We are very appreciative of their ability to accept and embrace our customs and share their own with us."
As the training progressed through the day the troops split into pairs and practiced minefield extraction techniques in separate lanes and set flags to mark potential threats as they proceeded down their individual routes.
The students conducting the training weren't the only ones gaining new insights.
"This is my first time doing any type of multinational training and I'm really glad I got the opportunity to come here," said Hicks, a Lilburn, Georgia, native. "Our aim is to provide our partner nation with new knowledge to keep them safe with their missions for the United Nations. Just like this knowledge is new to them, this environment is new to us. Yesterday, it was calm and about 60 degrees outside. Today there are high winds, it's about 40 degrees, and we are bundled up and fighting through."
As the training concluded, the service members exited the training area and mounted vehicles for the return to their main encampment.
As each of the different multinational platoons rotate through the training the instructors realize they are gaining knowledge and insights from their students that they're teaching. This interaction and sharing of experiences is one of the primary objectives of Khaan Quest this year.
"It's been amazing to work with other units and our foreign partners, and it's interesting to see that they have different ways of approaching the same challenges," said Hicks. "I was raised to always get along with other people and listen more than speaking. Being an intent listener is important and you can really learn a lot from people by listening and getting their opinions and views."
MAF members are scheduled to continue this training in order to continue preparation for upcoming UN peacekeeping missions.
"U.S. Forces are well-known to the world, so it's an honor to learn from them and if they can also learn from Mongolians, that's valuable to us," said Enkhtuvshin. "This exchange of knowledge and learning is the best part of this exercise and we look forward to future opportunities to continue this learning."
Khaan Quest is hosted by the Mongolian Armed Forces, co-sponsored by U.S. Pacific Command, and supported by U.S. Army Pacific and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific. Khaan Quest, in its 14th iteration, is the capstone exercise for this year's Global Peace Operations Initiative program, and includes more than 40 nations and approximately 1,400 participants.