A half-dozen soldiers from Uzbekistan spent five days last month training with their American counterparts at the Army’s Northern Warfare Training Center in Black Rapids. The two-way training was intended to allow soldiers to exchange ideas about military mountaineering – and to help build relationships with the Central Asian nation.
A dozen American and Uzbek soldiers assemble at the foot of a 15-meter-high rock face at the Northern Warfare Training Center, donning their protective gear for a few hours of instruction in advanced rappelling techniques.
One of the American trainers, Master Sgt. Nathan Barrick, checks his mountaineering equipment before heading to the top of the hill.
âHere I have a couple of lockers – a few great locking pairs,â he said. âNon-lockers. I have some cord here … “
The Uzbekistanis had arrived in Fairbanks days earlier after a series of flights from their Central Asian country that included the usual long delays at O’Hare International. They began training on August 26 at Black Rapids, located in the eastern part of the Alaska Range about 40 miles south of Fort Greely.
Their interpreter, Jahangir Haitov, said the six soldiers he was translating for appreciated the chance to come here for military mountaineering training with the Americans.
âThis is our first visit to Alaska,â he said, âand we are very grateful to the leadership of Fort (Wainwright) for inviting us.
Staff Sgt. Mario Colon accompanied the Uzbekistanis. Colon is assigned to the Army component of US Central Command based at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He says the training is intended to benefit both Uzbekistanis and Americans.
âIt’s totally two-way,â he said, âso as they learn from us, we may learn things from them as well.â
Barrick agrees, adding, âBecause they are advanced mountaineers, where they come from. And we are advanced mountaineers.
He says they have already recovered some indications from the Uzbekistanis.
âLast night,â he said, âthey showed us some techniques that they would use in a combat scenario so that they could still use their weapon. Something I never even thought of.
That something was the Uzbek technique of making a sling from a rope or strap that is carried by four soldiers as they move an injured comrade on a stretcher. The setup allows troops performing the rescue to have both hands free to use a weapon or other equipment as needed.
âThey talked about it and they showed us and it was amazing that the system they developed was perfect,â Barrick said. “Very simple.”
A few minutes later, the soldiers practiced this technique and others after climbing to the top of the hill, where Master Sgt. Ryan Retzner, a senior instructor, lectured and Haitov interpreter.
“Maybe they have an injury to their arm and they can’t rappelling,” he said, during a demonstration on recall methods with a wounded or injured soldier on his back. . “… Or maybe they lost their ATC,” mountaineering gear needed for rappelling.
Haitov then interprets Retzner’s instructions into Uzbek, then reports them to the Uzbek soldiers.
Haitov said the US military has worked with Uzbekistan for about 20 years, and a US military spokesperson in Alaska said the Uzbeks were asked to train in Black Rapids because the United States United consider Uzbekistan as a friendly nation.
The Uzbeks certainly seemed friendly, judging by the laughter that came out from time to time. Like when one of them asked Retzner if he could stop halfway up the rock face for a coffee break.
The soldier shouted at his comrades, and Haitov, translated for the Americans: âHe wants to have a coffee! As the interpreter explains the soldier’s request, all the soldiers burst out laughing.
Or a few minutes later, when one of the Uzbeks pretended to be scared as they got ready to start rappelling.
“Help me! Help me!” cried the soldier in a soft voice, again firing laughter from the soldiers atop the rock face.
The camaraderie appeared to help the two groups of soldiers overcome the language barrier that prevented them from interacting much. After a while, it didn’t seem very important that the visiting soldiers spoke in another language. They and the Americans joked and laughed, sometimes with the performers, sometimes without, as they all waited their turn to rappelling down.
They seemed to communicate with each other, in one way or another – perhaps in some sort of common language known to all soldiers.
Correction: This story has been edited to correct the spelling of Staff Sgt. The name of Nathan Barrick.