By Spc. John Onuoha, 6-8 CAV., 2IBCT UPAR
YAVORIV, Ukraine - There is nothing like the feeling of satisfaction you get after successfully completing a mission. For the Troopers of 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division that feeling is reflected in their experiences and the bonds they have built during their most recent deployment to Ukraine.
The Mustangs are wrapping up a five-month deployment in support of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, whose mission focuses on building a sustainable and enduring training capacity and capability within the Ukrainian land forces. The squadron was responsible for the direct training of two Ukrainian Battalions as well as helping to develop operations group staff instructors and opposition forces of the Combat Training Center at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv.
Their journey began less than five weeks before deploying. The announcement that they were coming to Ukraine to help support and train Ukrainian Soldiers caused a lot of buzz within the ranks of 6-8 CAV. For some of the Soldiers, this would be a new and exciting experience.
"I didn't know too much about Ukraine until I heard that we were coming here," said Spc. Robert Harris, an infantryman with Troop C, 6-8 CAV. "I did a little bit of research, but I still did not get a grasp of the full picture of everything until we got here."
Pfc. Brian Smoak, a scout with Troop B, said this was his first deployment and the only thing he knew about Ukraine was what he read or saw on the news. This deployment gave him the opportunity to learn about Ukraine and its culture. He said he was able to take what he had learned and use it to build a strong relationship with the Soldiers he helped train.
After their arrival, 6-8 CAV got to work right away. Within two weeks they began their first training rotation. Leadership quickly identified how they could improve the training experience for the rotational Ukrainian battalions. But the learning went both ways.
Harris explained that one of the things he learned and admired most about the Ukrainians was their ability to stay focused, and how it helped them work at a high level every time. They were motivated and put all their effort into achieving the desired end result, he said.
Many of the Ukrainian Soldiers that 6-8 CAV trained were veterans of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. These Soldiers brought their battlefield knowledge and experience with them to the IPSC.
"I was inspired by the Ukrainians tenacity and their will to survive," said 1st. Lt. Charles Costanzo, executive officer of Troop B, 6-8 CAV. "Hearing their stories and share of hardship, and the fact that they are still motivated and constantly pushing forward is a beautiful thing."
For each rotation, the squadron planned, prepared, executed and assessed training exercises conducted by the Ukrainians to ensure they were done properly and safely. The rotation began with individual skills training such as marksmanship, combat lifesaver, and land navigation. The training progressed through collective training to include platoon and company live-fires, and a battalion fire support coordination exercise.
6-8 CAV was not alone in executing the JMTG-U mission. This was a multinational effort that included Soldiers from the California National Guard and allied partner nations including Canada, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and the U.K.
"I truly and wholeheartedly believe in this mission," Costanzo said. "I think everything we did here was great. I think with the American, Canadian, Lithuanian, Polish and British Soldiers here, we are showing the Ukrainians that they are not alone and that they have friends who support their passion to defend their country."
In addition to the combat units, 6-8 CAV assisted in training Ukrainian instructors who will ultimately assume the role of primary instructors and observer/controller-trainer at the IPSC. During the two rotations, the instructors were given the responsibility of training one Coy (company) of Ukrainian Soldiers. They started small during the first rotation, focusing on the first six modules of individual training. By the second rotation, the Ukrainian instructors were training the Coy all the way through collective training.
The Soldiers of 6-8 CAV not only invested a lot of their time training and mentoring their Ukrainian counterparts, they also worked on improving themselves. Over the past five months, 6-8 CAV conducted multiple professional development courses including a team leader course, a Basic Leader Course and Air Assault School. Over 200 Soldiers completed primary military education while in Ukraine.
Smoak explained, that his experience here made him a better Soldier and has prepared him to be a future leader as well. Initially, as a new Soldier at Fort Stewart, he said he mainly focused on paying attention to simple instructions, but now he listens more because he understands the importance of effective leadership and how it plays a big role in accomplishing a mission.
"I had to step up to the plate and take charge," Smoak said. "We have new Soldiers in the unit and the things I learned from my leaders here in Ukraine are things that I will like to share and teach other Soldiers as I continue to develop as a leader."
Harris said, when he first came to Ukraine, he did not have much team leader experience. He had the opportunity when he came to Ukraine to teach tactics and learn how to instruct Soldiers from another nation which helped in developing his leadership skills.
"You have to know what you are doing to be able to teach someone else what to do," said Harris.
By the time they complete their final rotation on Dec. 9, 6-8 CAV Soldiers will have trained two Ukrainian battalions totaling 866 Soldiers, 104 instructors and 103 Opposition Force Soldiers. In addition, 550 Soldiers were CLS qualified and another 50 were certified as CLS instructors.
Their experiences and the partnerships they built helped 6-8 CAV Soldiers understand the importance of their mission. Over the length of the five months they moved past the mission being only words on a page to something concrete and observable.
"Coming together with another country and helping them train feels really great," Smoak said. "Our mission here is extremely important because it will help make the future of their army great and we did the best we could to teach them everything they needed."