PEZE HELMES, Republic of Albania -There have been many firsts in the 21-year State Partnership Program relationship between New Jersey and the Republic of Albania.
The New Jersey National Guard assisted the Albanian military in preparing themselves for NATO membership.
The first Albanian officer candidate class trained by the NJNG was also the first State Partnership Program country to ever have its officer candidates trained in the United States.
The New Jersey Army National Guard and Albania conducted five successful deployments to Afghanistan to train that nation’s army.
And now training an Albanian explosive ordnance disposal class to become trainers for a future Albanian EOD school.
For three-weeks, from Sept. 6 through Sept. 26, members of the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard EOD team led by Master Sgt. David Niedzwiadek, Tech. Sgt. John Hurley and Staff Sgt. Joe Coates have been training a core group of Albanian Army EOD experts to become level 1 EOD trainers.
According to Hurley the purpose of this training is two-fold: “Albania has munitions that date back from 1950s through the 1980s that they have been disposing of for the past several years – they need more EOD technicians to help in this process. Additionally, Albania wants to create their own EOD curriculum, this class is the first step toward that goal.”
“This course is helpful because it builds our future instructors,” said Capt. Vladimir Pica, commander, 1st EOD Group, Albanian Army.
This class is an extension of the Humanitarian Mine Action program, which assists European Command partner nations by conducting training and other events that enable these countries in developing an HMA infrastructure capable of eliminating landmine hazards, returning land to economic use, educating people on the hazards of landmines and unexploded ordnance, as well as assisting landmine victims. The 177th EOD team is also teaching unexploded ordnance disposal practices to the Albanian EOD technicians. Prior to that training, in July, Airmen from the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Wing Medical Group came to Albania to instruct the Albanian EOD medical center soldiers on advanced lifesaving techniques. Airmen from the 108th and the 177th will return to Albania next year to evaluate the progress of both groups in developing their own curriculums.
“These Airmen have shared their experiences in Afghanistan,” said Pica. “They know what to stress, what to focus on for our students.”
“This benefits both EOD teams,” said Niedzwiadek. “It reinforces our ability to train, especially working with a foreign class of trained EOD technicians.”
After the students have demonstrated their ability to safely dispose of munitions, the next step is to teach them to become trainers.
This is the big leap for the future trainers. Again a munition is placed somewhere in the training area, but this time the person being tested is not the technician, but the trainer. A student is chosen to disarm the unexploded ordnance. The trainer must observe them going through the disposal process, which includes interviewing the person who found the UXO, talking with the incident commander, finding the UXO, measuring it, identifying the device, determining the proper disposal method and executing that procedure.
During the last week of the class, Hurley and Niedzwiadek train the future trainers using a drill called practical problems – an EOD term where a replica of an unexploded ordnance device is placed in the field.
This time the students who are responding to the UXO are prepped by Hurley or Niedzwiadek to make specific mistakes; the key is for the trainer to identify those mistakes, write them down and then at the end of the session when they “grade” the student on their performance, explain whether they passed or not. If the student failed, the trainer will explain what additional training the student must do before they can retest and advance to the next level.
This process is used in the field with trainer Sgt. Servet Lika recording “student” Sgt. Marjan Alhysa’s description of what safety procedures he is going to take while measuring the UXO.
As Alhysa clears debris from the UXO, he slightly moves the UXO; Lika catches this mistake and records it. At the end of the test, during the feedback session, Lika explains to Alhysa, Hurley and Pica what Alhysa did right and where he made mistakes.
Hurley reviews Lika’s presentation and sums up his performance as a trainer.
“Perfect job,” said Hurley.