ZALL-HERR, TIRANA, Albania — The New Jersey National Guard and Albanian Armed Forces resumed military-to-military training between partner forces Feb. 5-9, 2023, as a contingent of more than 30 NJNG service members traveled to the Albanian Land Forces Headquarters, Zall-Herr, Tirana, Albania. The counterpart teams worked in cooperation to exchange best practices of their respective fields of expertise, such as indirect fire, forward observation, vehicle maintenance and signal communications.
Additionally, Albanian Armed Forces service members and Soldiers of the 254th Regiment (Combat Arms), New Jersey Army National Guard conducted non-commissioned officer professional development. The combined team covered topics ranging from NCO leadership and roles in training to physical fitness and readiness. Service members of both forces also took a diagnostic Army Combat Fitness Test.
Compared to the U.S. military model, the role of the non-commissioned officer has been developing since a new law passed by the Albanian Parliament in 2004, according to Brig. Gen. Bilbil Bitri, commander, AAF Training and Doctrine Command.
“The NCO role and responsibilities have been altered in different periods. However, before 1995, the NCOs were trusted only in administrative positions, or as specialists who were required to provide a very narrow expertise,” Bitri said. “This is a milestone, since although different roles, it enhanced the NCOs on the same importance as officers. This legitimized the importance of the NCOs as leaders, instructors and subject matter experts in different domains. They maintain the discipline and provide direction, but also but care, motivate and inspire the troops they lead.”
Soldiers of the 254th Regiment have provided courses, workshops and familiarization visits, as well as contributions to the drafting of a new NCO Doctrine, which has been approved and implemented in the AAF.
“Our focus has been to get the Albanian Armed forces to NATO standards, as far as NCO professional development is concerned,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Kirkpatrick, senior enlisted leader of the 254th Regiment. In September 2022, the AAF Light Infantry Battle Group demonstrated its combat readiness in a NATO validation exercise, earning the praise of the U.S. Army’s 4th Security Force Assistant Brigade.
“In my time working with [the AFF], they have improved leaps and bounds in this regard,” Kirkpatrick added.
Leaders with both the NJNG and AAF plan to identify different approaches to improve education and training of the AAF. Familiarization visits, train-the-trainer instruction and guest speakers from New Jersey expect to present at the AAF Command Sergeants Major Course.
“We owe much of what we have done to our friends from New Jersey,” said Bitri. “Our partnership is a true success story.”