YAVORIV, Ukraine—Being the first commander of a multinational effort to build a combat training center in Ukraine takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but fortunately, a leader with knowledge and expertise stepped-up to the plate and accepted the challenge.
Approximately 14 months ago, Col. Nick Ducich, of the California National Guard, volunteered to leave his wife and three young children to assume the responsibility of commanding the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center.
JMTG-U is made up of a Brigade-sized headquarters staffed by Soldiers of the California National Guard. In addition, two training task forces from the United States and Canada along with training groups from Poland and Lithuania rounded out the multinational effort.
JMTG-U's mission is to reinforce defensive skills of the Ukrainian Ground Forces in order to increase their capacity for self-defense, but that's only one of the priorities of the training group. In addition, JMTG-U is focused on the development of a NATO interoperable combat training center by implementing, developing or improving upon capabilities such as infrastructure, equipment, cadre, doctrine and standard operating procedures.
Ducich wasn't randomly chosen to be the first commander. From 2008-2010, he worked at the embassy in Kiev as a bilateral affairs officer working at the Office of Defense Cooperation, as part of the National Guard State Partnership Program.
According to Ducich, being the first commander of JMTG-U has been an incredible opportunity and living here previously with his family has made Ukraine his adopted country.
"I wanted to come here to give back to this great country and spur the progress of success by applying what I know," said Ducich. "I thought I could nest well with the Ukrainian leadership here in Yavoriv and work toward those milestones of creating successful relationships with our allied partners."
Upon his arrival, he faced challenges providing adequate housing and living conditions for incoming Soldiers.
"We had limited capacities for Soldier essential services and we had to rapidly increase the footprint in order for us to sustain for over a year," he said.
The living conditions were improved with the addition of 12 Alaska tents, 14 containerized housing units, 180 bunk beds, hot water heaters for the showers and the addition of a third DFAC.
All of these improvements were accomplished through the efforts of Soldiers from the California National Guard. They were responsible for all sustainment operations, ranges, infrastructure development, S4 operations such as property accountability, mayor cell functions, including base operations, classroom allocation, non-tactical vehicle support and general life-support for almost 1,400 multinational Soldiers that have served here over the past year.
Once the living situation was handled, he and his multinational counterparts were able to focus on the successful training of Ukrainian Soldiers and standing up the first Combat Training Center in Ukraine.
"JMTG-U has demonstrated the power of an alliance. The fact that you can have so many countries here and perform so effectively without any significant problems, whether it is personality driven or technique driven, there hasn't been any friction," he said. "We have come together as a team to deliver a 55-day rotation that definitely improves the combat readiness of the Ukrainian battalions."
In addition to the oversight of the training of five Ukrainian Maneuver Battalions, new ranges were developed, such as the hand-grenade range and the urban training site. JMTG-U was also responsible for helping to train 104 instructors, 103 Opposition Forces Soldiers and a Ukrainian staff all of whom are responsible for eventually assuming the responsibility of the CTC.
"When I look at what JMTG-U has accomplished during my tenure here, I don't look at it as one unit," he said. "I have seen three different active duty battalions, three different Canadian battalions, five different Lithuanian, and two different Polish units, so I look at it as what has the alliance accomplished?"
He added, "Knowing that we are the last allied face they (Ukrainian Soldiers) see before they deploy forward drives me to do my best, like everyone else here, to increase their survivability on the battlefield to try and ensure they all return home to their loved ones the same way they left," he said.
Although he is preparing to relinquish his command to the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, out of Oklahoma, he says he knows he will be able to look back at his time at the International Peacekeeping and Security Center with pride and confidence knowing that he put his best effort into JMTG-U.
Moving forward, Ducich will resume command of the 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in San Diego, California. In 2018, he is set to deploy to Kosovo and will command the Multinational Battle Group-East.