PRISTINA, Kosovo - A contingent of 53 Iowa National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are in the Republic of Kosovo this week to participate in a disaster response exercise called Eagle 6 where they are training alongside the Kosovo Security Force (KSF) and other international partners.

Participants from the Iowa National Guard include subject matter experts working as observers and mentors, a platoon of engineers from the 831st Engineer Company from the Middletown, Iowa Readiness Center and medical groups from the 132nd and 185th Air National Guard Wings, based out of Des Moines and Sioux City, IA.

Col. Justin Wagner, vice chief of joint staff, Iowa National Guard and superintendent of Harlan Community School District in Harlan, Iowa, is in Kosovo leading the Iowa National Guard team supporting the Eagle 6 exercise.

"Participating in this exercise is an incredible opportunity for us as international partners to train our forces in a combined, joint and global environment as sometimes we don't always get the opportunity to do, especially with a focus on disaster response," Wagner said.

Eagle 6 appropriately marks the sixth year of the KSF-run exercise. The Eagle series continues to grow in scenario complexity, size and international participation. This year's exercise has more than 600 participants, 200 of which are from eight separate NATO-affiliated countries. Participants from Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States Army-Europe and the Iowa National Guard have all sent military specialty teams to join the KSF, Kosovo National Police and Kosovo emergency response teams in carrying out the exercise.

Brig. Gen. Naim Haziri, KSF director of the Eagle 6 emphasized the importance of the combined, joint nature of the training event.

"We are exercising together with the local agencies and our international partners in order to intervene together in real operations throughout Kosovo or elsewhere," Haziri said.

The Eagle 6 exercise scenario is based on natural disaster reaction and relief, emergency response, refugee care, humanitarian aid and cooperation with local authorities, organizations and international military partners.

"As a member of the U.S. National Guard and on behalf of our international partners, I can tell you from personal experience, there is no more important mission for an organization than to be able to respond quickly and effectively during a disaster and to come to the aid of your fellow citizens," said Wagner.

The amount of work to host and execute an exercise of this size begins months prior to the event. The scenario, logistics, participants, troop care and coordination are all planned in great detail.

"I am impressed with the planning and the attention to detail with which the members of the Kosovo Security Force have approached this exercise," said Wagner during a press conference with local Kosovo media representatives. "It is a testament to the focus they have placed on building capacity within their current mandate and developing interoperability with their [NATO, Kosovo Forces] and regional partners. This will truly benefit all the people of the region should a disaster strike."

As the largest exercise ever planned, hosted and lead by the KSF, Brig. Gen. Enver Cikaqi, KSF Land Force commander, said the exercise would not have been possible without the cooperation of all those involved.

"We arrived at this phase with our national and international partners," Cikaqi said. "Without their continued support, we would not have achieved all the success that the KSF has today."

The Iowa National Guard has worked with the Kosovo Security Force as part of the State Partnership Program since 2011. The military to security force partnership is just one of several areas of cooperation that Iowa and Kosovo share. Following completion of the Eagle 6 exercise, more than 50 business, community and religious leaders from Iowa will be traveling to Kosovo to meet their Kosovo counterparts and further build their individual and working partnerships.