HOHENFELS, Germany -- The California Army National Guard's 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized) is preparing to deploy to Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom's Sentinel (OFS), where they are slated for operational command in the southern part of the country. In preparation, they participated in exercise Allied Spirit VII as the high command at the U.S. Army's Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 30 to Nov. 22, 2017.

Allied Spirit is a U.S. Army Europe-directed, 7th Army Training Command-conducted multinational exercise series designed to develop and enhance NATO and key partner's interoperability and readiness. Approximately 4,050 service members from 13 nations participated in Allied Spirit VII.

Nicknamed the "Sunshine" Division derived from their unit patch, the 40th ID is a Southern California Division headquartered in Los Alamitos, where they're generally not accustomed to the winter elements of Germany. To make matters even more different, during the exercise they primarily hunkered down indoors in the Division Tactical Operation Center (DTOC), where they directed the combat brigades and multinational forces to work together on the training battlefield.

The DTOC's highest ranking member, and commander of this rotation, is also the 40th ID Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Smiley.

"Being here, working alongside our NATO allies develops skillsets we would not receive training at home station," said Smiley. "The California Army National Guard is honored to partake in any mission to enhance our relationships with our NATO allies and nation partners."

The Army Total Force Policy (ATFP) requires all Reserve and National Guard units to meet the same readiness standards as the active-duty component and be capable of performing the same missions. This can clearly be seen as the 40th ID headquarters component trains to replace the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division as a division command element in Train Advise Assist Command -- South (TAAC-South), Afghanistan.

Forces in TAAC-South train, advise and assist the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces through security force integration of effects in order to develop long-term sustainability and posturing of the force.

Though the German terrain is clearly different than that of Afghanistan, the training the 40th ID received during Allied Spirit VII will pay dividends as they assume command of TAAC-South. Knowing how to move assets around the battle field is no small task, but working with other NATO and Allied Partner Nations is comparable to working with the Afghanistan Forces who they'll soon be working with.

One of many other California Army National Guard members participating in Allied Spirit during this rotation is the Chief of Engineers, Capt. Jaybriel Kekauoha, originally from Hawaii, and the true epitome of a "Citizen Soldier."

"Not only is this training preparing us for our upcoming Afghanistan mission, it's also very beneficial for me in my civilian job," said Kekauoha. "I work in international sales and working with other NATO and Partner Nations allows me to understand them much better."

The training the 40th ID Soldiers received at Allied Spirit VII will have a long lasting impact as they approach their real-world mission in Afghanistan this spring.

"The importance of Allied Spirit is to bring our NATO partners together in a cohesive exercise where we can test and exercise our alliance together to prove interoperability, have situational understanding, learn tactics and maneuver, and increase our ability to integrate these forces to work together as a full team," added Smiley.