SOUTH BASE, Serbia - In uncertain times, with many challenges in the world, focusing on the strong bonds established with partner nations around the globe will not only increase strength in peacetime, but will also improve capabilities during times of conflict, when they arise.

With that goal in mind, about 50 members of the Ohio National Guard's 838th Military Police Company deployed to South Base, a premier Serbian Armed Forces training site, near Vranje, Serbia, to take part in Exercise Platinum Wolf 2018.

The two-week multinational peacekeeping exercise brought together more than 500 soldiers, from 10 nations, to enhance military cooperation and interoperability at South Base and Borovac Training Area, June 11-22.

The large-scale exercise, led by the Serbian Armed Forces, allowed the Ohio National Guard's military police Soldiers, along with about members of the Tennessee National Guard's 269th Military Police Company, to train alongside, develop partnerships with and build mutual understanding between partner nations including the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Romania.

"One of the Serbian Armed Forces' most important missions is participating in peacekeeping operations," said Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin. "During exercises like this one, we prepare ourselves to bring peace and stability where there is war. In this, we cooperate with and exchange our experiences with some of the most developed militaries of the world."

More than an exercise

While the exercise promoted cooperation and interoperability with several of the world's defense forces, Ohio's invitation to participate in the fifth annual Platinum Wolf exercise stems from a strong 12-year relationship with Serbia.

The Ohio-Serbia partnership was established in 2006, as part of the Department of Defense State Partnership Program, with a focus on developing a military partnership that could benefit both nations, while also promoting regional stability and civil-military relationships.

Throughout the past 12 years, the countries have conducted about 20 events each year, enhancing joint training, building cultural understanding, showcasing accomplishments and collaborating to achieve security cooperation goals.

During this year's exercise, Ohio and Serbia not only continued to further the already strong bonds, but also continued to work at building partnerships with nations throughout the Balkans region.

"Since 2014, we have been training our units together with our partners from the Ohio National Guard, Great Britain, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina," said Col. Sladjan Stamenkovic, the exercise director. "Our goal has been to raise our troops' capabilities to participate in peacekeeping operations worldwide."

Training for Peace

Taking place at Serbia's premier training facility, the Borovac Training Area -- located just outside of South Base, in the southern part of the country -- the 296-acre training facility supports several specialized training lanes. The soldiers lived and operated from a small tent city, built to simulate a real-world forward operating base, during the exercise.

The exercise, designed specifically to train for peacekeeping operations, focused on four primary tactical areas of training, including military operations in urban terrain; cordon and search; crowd and riot control; and mounted and dismounted patrol. This required the more than 500 soldiers to break down into smaller, integrated groups for the daily scenarios occurring at the various training lanes.

"We gained a valuable opportunity to increase the working relationship with our Ohio National Guard state partners," said 2nd Lt. Timothy Kurfiss, 838th Military Police Company officer in charge. "We also had the added benefit of getting to train and meet training objectives in a new environment that was not familiar to us. This allowed leaders to plan and execute training for a variety of scenarios and terrains we wouldn't normally see at home."

The military operations in urban terrain, or MOUT, training was led by members of the Serbian Armed Forces Special Forces Brigade and taught soldiers to perform police engagement operations; collect police intelligence; process detainees; perform reconnaissance and surveillance; and conduct troop leading procedures.
Cordon and search training supported civil security tactics. Taught by members of Serbia's 4th Brigade, the training enabled soldiers to conduct police operations including security of critical sites; roadblock and checkpoint security; convoy security and troop leading procedures.

The crowd and riot control training lane also included a portion designated for public law and order with use of nonlethal weapons. This training, taught by Soldiers from the Ohio and Tennessee National Guards in partnership with soldiers from the 4th Army Brigade, allowed soldiers to perform as a response force to conduct security of critical sites, civil disturbance control and troop leading procedures. This area also included host nation police training and support.

Mounted and dismounted patrol lanes focused on reconnaissance and surveillance techniques, police intelligence collection procedures and route regulation enforcement tactics.

Training lanes are used for systematic, performance-oriented training that enables military units to train in smaller teams, quickly and efficiently to attain proficiency in tactics, techniques and procedures. Training lanes are typically built to resemble military operational environments, allowing soldiers to plan, execute and assess training to achieve maximum results.

The use of the training lanes during Platinum Wolf not only allowed for Soldiers from the 838th to work and learn, side-by-side, with their international counterparts, but also played an integral part in ensuring that training aligned with the U.S. Army's readiness requirements.

The Ohio National Guard Soldiers logged more than 100 training hours and expended more than 5,000 rounds of ammunition, ensuring the company is meeting the goal set by Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., Ohio assistant adjutant general for Army, of being ready to 'Fight Tonight,' anytime, anywhere.

"Participation in this multinational peacekeeping exercise has boosted morale and confidence for every Ohio Soldier involved," Harris said. "The opportunity to operate side-by-side with counterparts from countries such as Hungary, Serbia and the UAE puts an exclamation point on the importance of constant readiness."

Added U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott: "This exercise is very useful for peacekeeping operations. The most important thing is that our troops train together with other countries' troops, that they get to know each other's equipment and that they can train in real time. In real peacekeeping operations, it is usual to have militaries from different countries working together so they need to be able to communicate, to share their equipment and most importantly their operating tactics."

World-Class Training

The vision to develop South Base into a premier training center for units engaged in multinational peacekeeping operations, by providing world-class facilities with state-of-the-art technology and training lane complexes, began in 2010 with a meeting at South Base between the Serbian Armed Forces, the Ohio National Guard and U.S. Army's European Command.

A Peacekeeping Operations Training Center master plan was developed and set into three phases. Phase one was to construct a national training center for the Serbian Armed Forces. Phase two was to develop a peacekeeping operations training center that would comply with United Nations standards and meet Serbian Armed Forces deployment requirements. The third phase was to create a training center at South Base that could support NATO's Partnership for Peace training objectives.

Starting out as a steep-walled valley only four years earlier, the multipurpose Borovac Training Area was completed in 2014 and Serbia hosted the first multinational Platinum Wolf exercise.

"South Base was created with a view to holding such exercises and activities at it," Scott said. "I am very pleased that the American troops participated in this event and I am also happy that the Serbian Armed Forces cooperates with the American Armed Forces to this degree, because we have three times as many exercises with the Serbian Armed Forces than they have with any other partner. We are proud of it, and the results can clearly be seen."

Today, five years later, Platinum Wolf continues to promote South Base as the standard model for regional peacekeeping operations training centers.
"510 officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers from nine other countries participated in Platinum Wolf 2018," Stamenkovic said. "As the exercise director, I can say I am very pleased with everyone's hard work, discipline and professionalism."

Stamenkovic highlighted during the June 22 closing ceremonies that Serbia intends to keep organizing and participating in similar exercises while working to increase participation of additional partner nations in future exercises. Serbia also plans to enhance the capabilities of South Base and Borovac to better host visiting nations.

"More importantly, the trust and mutual respect that is developed between Soldiers and leaders from such diverse backgrounds can't be created through manuals or training videos," Harris said. "This exercise will pay dividends and shape the security environment for years into the future as these young Soldiers become leaders in their respective nations' militaries."