By Lt.Col Michael Odle, D.C. National GuardApril 5, 2019
NEW ORLEANS, La. - Each year, military reservists and National Guard members exchange with partner countries for a once-in-a-life experience of becoming part of the host nation's military during their annual training days.
Each experience is so unique, according to U.S. Air Force Lt.Col. Bradley Bair, chief of the Reserve Development Integration and Military Reserve Exchange Program (MREP) for the Air Force Reserve, that sharing a previous trip wouldn't do the current trip justice.
"They are all just so different," said Bair. "Each a customized experience."
Each year, the MREP lets selected reservists and National Guard members from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines make a one-for-one exchange with personnel from a foreign country. This year's countries included Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
The program goal is to integrate participants into the host country's reserve forces, as though they belong to the unit, and to conduct their annual training as a member of that foreign military service.
For nearly 130 reservists and National Guard members this past weekend at the Louisiana National Guard's Jackson Barracks, the excitement was contagious. As Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen arrived, each was asking where the other was headed. Quickly, people were seated together based on their country.
"I am honored to be able to serve as the American MREP representative in Denmark," said U.S. Army Major Allen Godsell, South Dakota National Guard. As the current 196th Regional Training Institute Commander at Fort Meade, S.D. his exchange with the Danish military training school will be of great benefit to him in his current assignment.
Participants, along with service component program leaders and host-nation staff discussed logistics, completed NATO 101 training and got better acquainted with the program at the one-day orientation. Many of the participants were departing to their host nations within weeks.
"I know you are excited about your exchange and there will be time for cultural activities in your respective countries," said U.S. Army Col. Andrew Ballenger, operations branch chief for the Army National Guard. "But expect to arrive, orient and quickly deploy to the field with your host-nation military."
For some participants, they will be traveling individually and gaining unique perspectives in intelligence, artillery, cyber and public affairs. For others, they are participating as part of a larger foreign-planned exercise, in some cases, they may be the only U.S. presence.
"We are partnering at all levels, but really focused on the M-day or drill status Reservist or Guardsman," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Amanda Mason, MREP program manager for the Air National Guard. "We aren't sending full air units in this program, but individuals and that individual is not only the ambassador for their service but also for the U.S."
U.S. Army Captain Dustin Carnish from the Ohio National Guard was lucky to have been chosen for a second opportunity to participate in MREP. This year he is going to Estonia, but two years ago he went to the United Kingdom.
"I landed in London and was quickly transported to a British military base, loaded on a plane and on my way to Gibraltar," said Carnish. "For the next two week, I was conducting assaults in caves, securing beach landings and taking hills; it was a surreal experience."
The nature of the MREP is to gain professional knowledge with military members from other nations. How they are organized, how they deploy and train. Having this understanding enhances partnerships, especially important because of the increasing number of multi-national operations the U.S. is engaged, like those in Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syria.
"This program gives each participant the opportunity to enhance interoperability with our NATO partners, strengthen relationships with the alliance and enhance the cultural awareness and understanding between our countries," said Ballenger.
MREP participants for the fiscal year 2019 have already been selected. Nominations for the fiscal year 2020 occurred in the winter time frame. Applicants are usually selected by January/February of the program year and MREP exchanges must be completed by the end of the fiscal year. Each service has different requirements for applying, but typically includes an application, personal statement, and latest fitness scores.