The Balkans region of Europe might not seem to have much in common with Interior Alaska, but for 1st Lt. Vedat Shaqiri and Cpl. Besim Emini from the Republic of Kosovo's Security Force, Alaska offered a familiar - yet different - training experience this summer at the Northern Warfare Training Center's Black Rapids Training Site near Fort Greely.
"(Kosovo has) similar mountains, even though Alaska is something different," Shaqiri said. "It has some advantages when it comes to military mountaineering, especially. But we have similar mountains where we can also practice all these skills and knowledge we gain from the Northern Warfare Training Center."
Shaqiri and Emini went through both NWTC's Basic and Advanced Military Mountaineering courses, starting in early July and ending in August.
"It was very intense and for a short amount of time, there was too much information and it was a little bit hard to get all the knowledge in our brains," Shaqiri said. "But we've seen all of the training and all the lectures that were given to us are connected to each other and are building on each other."
Shaqiri, a Pristina native, said he is part of the search and rescue training center that is being established in his home country.
"I have been assigned in charge of the operation, so mostly dealing with the urban search and rescue operations which are part of the Civil Protection Regiment which is under the Support Operation Brigade," he explained. "So when I go back there I'll be in charge of all the instructors that will be giving the lectures regarding urban search and rescue, but it will also contain the diving part and also the mountain search and rescue part. The knowledge that we gain here we can use not only for military purposes, but also for civilian purposes like evacuating casualties or helping people in civilian cases, wherever they might be in the country or even outside the country."
Emini, a member of Kosovo's Rapid Reaction Brigade and a resident of Viti, said he came to the NWTC courses with a limited background in military mountaineering.
"I did it just once - rappelling - when I was training in Kosovo," he said. "I only had an hour training, just once I rappelled down."
Staff Sgt. William Eller, a member of NWTC's instructor cadre, said both men displayed a willingness to learn and share experience with their fellow students.
"(Both students are) very willing to learn, they ask a lot of questions, and they pay attention quite well," Eller said. "They absorb everything as you're talking to them."
Shaqiri noted he was also studying their instructors and the way training was presented as he prepared for his follow-on mission.
"The center that's going to be established, the search and rescue training center, it's not going to be established only for our country purposes or only our military purposes," he explained. "It will start giving training for the units inside the military first, then it will go beyond this to the organizations inside the Republic of Kosovo. Then from 2018 it will deliver lectures and training for the whole regions around the Balkans as well as foreign countries where countries around the globe can come and get certified.
"So it's worth mentioning that the training that we are getting here is something that will give us the idea how training will be delivered, not only for the inside - inside the military - and beyond this to the organizations, to the civilian ones, or whatever they might be," he continued. "Now we've got all these ideas and perspectives of how things should be done in an appropriate way. Because all the instructors, all the programs that we have seen here, are very good."
Eller pointed out that the learning during the two courses was a two-way street.
"They're able to show us their TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) through things like this, where we just trade information, to see how different militaries do things," he explained. "It helps build cross training, so if you ever work with them somewhere else in some other country, you kind of know how they operate and they know how we operate, so it's good relations."