STANFORD TRAINING AREA, U.K. — For two weeks, more than 700 Soldiers from five nations lived, trained and learned together.
They responded to rioters, protected food and medical supplies from would-be looters, interacted with villagers and manned checkpoints. They dodged hurled potatoes, planned missions in poorly-lit village centers, and protected their posts, all as part of the second phase of Steppe Eagle 16.
Led by United States Army Central, Steppe Eagle is a multinational training exercise that this year brought together Soldiers from the United Kingdom, the United States, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to the British Army’s Stanford Training Area in the northeast corner of England to hone their peacekeeping and peace support capabilities.
“We live in an uncertain time with an uncertain world, which is increasingly unstable,” explained Brigadier Martin Gamble, commander of the 160th Infantry Brigade. “Our responsibility in that is to keep the peace and build a safe and secure environment.”
In its 13th year, the event aimed to prepare the Kazakhstan Peacekeeping Battalion, or KAZBAT, for validation to deploy in support of global peacekeeping and peace support operations. It was also meant to strengthening relationships between the forces of participating nations, allowing Soldiers to find commonalities among their cultures and learn from one another.
“The most important thing that goes on in these exercises is building capability, but it’s also about building understanding,” explained Maj. Gen. Giles Hill, commanding general of the 1st UK Division.
“It’s building relationships; it’s building trust; and you can’t build that overnight.”
During the exercise, units were divided into two battalions, one composed primarily of KAZBAT troops, the other of troops from all five participating nations. As the exercise began, battalion leadership set to work on mission planning and operations development, while the Soldiers headed out to the field for four days of situational training lanes.
In the field, the Soldiers focused on training to react to public disturbances, conduct a cordon and search, secure an international border, and conduct civil military operations.
“The (situational training) prepared them for the field training exercise,” explained the 116th Military Engagement Team’s Capt. Christopher Wille, who worked as an observer and mentor during the exercise.
Working with displaced persons and locals is a big part of supporting peacekeeping operations, according to Maj. Cletis Derek Butler, who managed the civil military operations lane. The lanes, he said, lay the foundation of knowledge for the Soldiers and helped “key leaders to understand the relationship between civil organizations, governments and the military.”
Following the situational training, Soldiers took a day to reset and partake in good-natured rivalry during a sporting competition. The event included a strong man competition, volleyball and football tournaments, a tug-of-war competition and a relay race.
“We do a lot of military stuff, obviously, but there’s another part to it and it’s about understanding each other said Maj. Benjamin Salt, of 1st Battalion, The Rifles, who oversaw much of the exercise.
“Sports day is a bit more relaxed, a bit more social, and people can actually talk and understand that our cultures aren’t that much different and that we all want the same thing.”
Then it was back to work for the 700 troops. With the exception of the exercise controllers, all Soldiers headed to various training villages scattered around the Stanford Training Area for a five-day field training exercise. There, the Soldiers encountered much of what they had already experienced on the situational training lanes, only now on a larger and more continuous scale.
“The KAZBAT staff collected, processed, analyzed and disseminated information from their higher headquarters, subordinate units and other sources,” explained Wille, who worked with the KAZBAT during the field training exercise.
“Based on this information, leaders and staff then planned and executed operations to improve security in their area of operations, disrupt illicit networks, and provide humanitarian relief to the local populace.”
The local populace, in the case of Steppe Eagle, was supplied by participating British and American Soldiers, who played villagers and displaced persons, humanitarian aid and assistance workers, and mayors and police chiefs.
“It was the most awesome experience I’ve had in my military career,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jackie Pace, a role player from the 116th Military Engagement Team.
“It was working with the other Soldiers as role players as well as the Soldiers that were out there for the exercise. It was also the first time I’ve ever been arrested.”
At the field training exercise, the KAZBAT underwent a sort of preliminary evaluation, with evaluators from NATO observing many of their training events to ensure they were on track to earn level one validation next year.
“I think it went really, really well,” Salt said. “The end state of this is that they know their strengths and they know their weaknesses for next year when they go to their evaluation and we can now use our resources in an effective manner to really target the areas where they need improvement.”
On the final day of the field training exercise, July 28, nearly 60 distinguished visitors, along with representatives from the media, descended upon Eastmere Village, one of the primary training sites used throughout the exercise, to observe the culminating training event.
“I’m very impressed,” said the Mike Penning, Britain’s armed forces minister. “To see countries coming together, the good guys coming together and actually training so we can have the confidence to go out and actually protect and conduct peacekeeping activities around the world is simply thrilling.”
As the distinguished visitors observed from two stories up in the center of the village, American and KAZBAT Soldiers surrounded the area, forming an outer and inner cordon. British troops soon entered the village on foot, interacting with role players and gleaning bits of information from them as they patrolled through the town.
They were after a suspected smuggler, all part of the training exercise. Soon shots rang out across the town square. Kazakhstani soldiers reacted, the target was identified and escorted out, but the villagers were angry with the rising violence in their town and began to riot.
The villagers built up a barricade as British and KAZBAT troops marched into the town with shields and protective equipment, pushed through the barricade and quickly dispersed the potato-throwing crowd in the final training event of Steppe Eagle.
“I was very impressed with the KAZBAT’s performance,” said Maj. Eric Elliott, who ran the scenarios and injects for the duration of the exercise. “We learned a lot from them, and I think everyone got a lot out of the exercise.”