POKLJUKA, Slovenia – “This looks exactly like where I grew up,” said U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Lawrence, Colorado National Guard senior enlisted leader. “I feel right at home.”
Lawrence, an Evergreen, Colo., native, headed up a snow-covered mountain forest. He is one of four Colorado National Guard noncommissioned officers who participated in the 7th International NATO and Partnership for Peace NCO Winter Camp March 14-21.
The Colorado Guard has partnered with the Republic of Slovenia for more than 20 years through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.
Similar to many mountain and lake towns of the Colorado Rockies, Pokljuka is known for a variety of winter and summer activities such as skiing, hiking, biking, boating and biathlon events.
The 29 NCOs attending the event hail from more than 15 countries, including Austria, Albania, Belgium, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia, Montenegro, Switzerland, Serbia, Naples, Brunssum, Oberammergau, Slovenia and the U.S.
“We ran through a series of scenarios and role playing,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Douglas James, a Loveland, Colo., native, and Colorado National Guard’s 233rd Security Forces Squadron superintendent. “It helped identify common issues between our countries’ militaries and breakdown communication barriers.”
The multinational group practiced in a variety of outdoor skill scenarios, including mountain-rescue techniques such as avalanche survival and rescue. The event then culminated in a biathlon competition.
“The Winter Camp had a profound impact on my personal and professional life,” added James. “It forced me to confront weaknesses and help others to do the same.”
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Sandra Dudley, a Denver native and Colorado National Guard noncommissioned officer in charge at the NCO Winter Camp, echoed this sentiment while recounting what she observed at the event.
Dudley recounted watching an NCO from Hungary who had never worn skis complete the biathlon with the help of every other multinational NCO.
“In every situation we come across, there is someone who has that spirit and never gives up,” said Dudley. “In the military we have that in common, whether it’s helping a buddy get back up or keeping ourselves motivated in crises such as the floods, fires and ash here in Colorado. It keeps us all going.”
The partnership between Slovenia and Colorado also keeps growing.
Trekking up and down the mountains of Slovenia and serving as a guest speaker at the Winter Camp, Lawrence said building multinational relationships and providing authentic leadership training for Colorado Soldiers is a primary benefit of the State Partnership Program.
“Not every country has a U.S. counterpart,” said Lawrence. “We do this to also model the mutual benefits afforded through SPP to those multinationals.”
Future partnership initiatives include airfield development, force transformation and establishing a NATO Center of Excellence.