DURRES, Albania — New York and New Jersey Army National Guard officer candidates honed their leadership skills with their Albanian Armed Forces Academy counterparts April 10-24.
“Training with the Albanian officer candidates was a really great experience,” said Officer Candidate Katherine Murrell. “There were challenges with communication. But they weren’t as big as I thought they would be.”
Officer Candidate Jason Frantz said the training “surpassed all my expectations.”
Five New York National Guard officer candidates enrolled in the 106th Regional Training Institute Officer Candidate School and six New York cadre members were invited to Albania for the training by the New Jersey Army Guard OCS program.
Seventeen New Jersey officer candidates and six New Jersey OCS cadre participated in the training near Durres on the Adriatic coast.
The New Jersey National Guard has a State Partnership Program relationship with Albania and New Jersey’s 1st Battalion, 254th Training Regiment, has been working with the Albanians to improve that nation’s officer training program, according to Lt. Col. Stuart Loy, the training regiment’s commander.
New Jersey sent their officer candidates to train in Albania in 2022, Loy said. This year he wanted to expand the effort, so he invited New York to participate.
His goal is to expand the number of countries participating in the annual training event, Loy said. He wants to invite the New York Army National Guard again in 2024 with another state OCS and another NATO country.
Sgt. 1st Class Everitt Speros, the New York OCS course manager, said he was surprised at the quality of the training.
“I thought it would be a little too much dog and pony,” Speros said. “I was worried that the training was going to be dumbed down and not as intensive and I was worried the candidates would not get a lot out of it.”
Instead, said the veteran of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry’s fight for Route Irish in Baghdad during the Iraq War, the training was excellent.
“No candidates have had more squad tactical lane reps,” Speros said. “Each candidate did close to 30 squad lanes in April. This is enormous and gives them a tremendous leg up.”
Speros said the candidates got plenty of chances to go through troop-leading procedures, deliver operations orders and lead a squad.
Murrell and Frantz said the repeated opportunities to run the tactical problems really helped them learn. “It was a lot of fun when we started to figure out how to coordinate everything,” Frantz said.
The opportunity to work with troops from another NATO country was also invaluable, said Capt. Edwin Ponce, an OCS training officer. “It gave them a little bit of a taste of what they will be doing in the real world once they get commissioned as lieutenants,” Ponce said.
The New York and New Jersey National Guard officer candidates and 37 Albanian academy cadets in their second year of training were integrated into squads together.
“It was a little challenging for them, in the sense of the language barrier, especially when it came time to plan and execute training,” Ponce said.
Murrell said the Americans and Albanians managed to work things out. Some Albanians spoke excellent English and could translate, she said, and others spoke enough to get by. And when it came time for the tactical exercises, they also used signs to communicate.
The training focused on five exercises, Speros said. The officer candidates and cadets had to conduct a movement to contact, conduct a squad attack, knock out a bunker, set up an ambush and react to an ambush. The trainees were given a platoon order and then put together their squad operations orders.
On a Friday night to Sunday training weekend, each officer candidate would get to be a squad leader twice, Speros said. On this training mission, they were able to lead twice a day.
“They got a tremendous amount of reps and a tremendous amount of one-on-one attention,” Speros said.
The Albanian Armed Forces Academy commander and Albania’s Chief of Defence visited to observe the training.
Speros said the Albanians “were thirsty to learn.”
The Albanian military, originally based on Russian models of command, is now trying to incorporate Western military leadership styles, Loy explained. Training with National Guard troops helps them do that, he said.