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Colorado Guard Soldiers train, deploy with Slovenians 
By Army Pfc. Bethany Fehringer, 104th Public Affairs Detachment 
Army Staff Sgt. Paul Bianchi, a driver and gunner with the Colorado Army National Guard’s Operational Mentor and Liaison Team-Augmentation and formerly an infantryman with the scout platoon of COARNG’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, waits for formation outside his barracks with some Slovenian soldiers who he has been training with at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels in Germany, Sept. 3, 2010. The OMLT-A spent five weeks training at Hohenfels in order to fulfill its Joint Mission Readiness Center requirements in preparation for its deployment to Afghanistan in October. (U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Bethany Fehringer/RELEASED)
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (9/7/10) – Eleven Colorado Army National Guard Soldiers will pair up with 90 Slovenian soldiers and deploy to Afghanistan this October to form an Operational Mentor and Liaison Team.         

Their combined mission will be to train and mentor an Afghan National Army infantry battalion, better empowering it in the use of infantry maneuvers and tactics, so the ANA can ultimately take control of its military operations.

Every Soldier on the COARNG team, the Operational Mentor and Liaison Team-Augmentation, is a volunteer.

Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Dace, a driver and gunner, and formerly a sniper section leader with the COARNG’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, said that around 60 COARNG Soldiers applied to take this mission.

Dace also said that getting a spot on OMLT-A was competitive and there were a few requirements each Soldier must have already had in order to be considered, including combat experience for all noncommissioned officers.

After selection, the OMLT-A went to Fort Polk, La., for 60 days to train at the Joint Readiness Training Center, where the Soldiers trained in small unit tactics, mounted training and close combat attacks, and began learning the Dari language. The drivers and gunners then went to the Joint Fire Observers Course in Einsiedlerhof, Germany, for an additional two weeks.

Finally, members of OMLT-A met up with their Slovenian counterparts at the Joint Mission Readiness Center at the U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels in Germany, where the entire team – the OMLT – began training as a cohesive group.

While at Hohenfels, the OMLT had the opportunity to learn about the Blue Force Tracker, a GPS system that provides situational awareness between commanders and troops during a mission.

The OMLT-A has already been training for the mission for nearly five months, and will deploy for another six. The OMLT will deploy as one unit, with the COARNG Soldiers falling in to the Slovenian chain of command.

Despite the fact that most of the Colorado team members don’t speak Slovenian, there’s no apparent language barrier. “Many of them (Slovenes) have been learning English since they were in school,” said Army 1st Lt. Christian Berringer, a platoon mentor, formerly of Mortar Platoon, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry. “There is no problem communicating with them.”

Colorado National Guardsmen are no strangers to Slovenia, either. Aside from training together for their upcoming deployment, members of the Slovenian army and the Colorado Army National Guard routinely train together in each other’s home countries. Many Slovenians have participated in COARNG Special Forces and infantry training. Likewise, COARNG Soldiers routinely travel to Slovenia to participate in their field exercises.

Slovenian Pvt. Jan Hlačer, a sniper with the Slovenian army, shot 38 out of 40 rounds into center mass on a target on the U.S. rifle training range in Germany, which qualifies him as an expert by U.S. Army standards. Besides zeroing his rifle earlier that day, this was the first time Hlacer ever shot an M16A2 rifle.

“I really have enjoyed working with the Slovenians so far,” said Army Capt. Joseph Biancalana III, the company commander mentor for the OMLT-A, formerly the commander of Company D, 1-157th Infantry. “They are true professionals. I feel very confident deploying with them.”

“I really feel comfortable falling under their command,” said Berringer. “The qualities I look for in a leader are the technical and tactical knowledge to make sound decisions, and also the compassion to make the right decisions for their Soldiers – and the Slovene leaders really do display all of that.”

The CONG and the Republic of Slovenia have become strong allies over their 17-year collaboration through the National Guard’s State Partnership Program.

The CONG SPP works closely with National Guard Bureau International Affairs, U.S. European Command, as well as the Slovenian Embassy and strives to advance strong military-to-military and civilian-to-military relations with select countries.

The OMLT is part of NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force’s contribution toward the development of the Afghan National Army. The ISAF’s military objectives include assisting the Afghan government to extend its authority country-wide by conducting operations with the Afghan National Security Forces and mentoring the ANA.

The National Guard SPP was established in 1993 in response to the radically changed political-military situation following the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The SPP provides Slovenia access to experts within the state of Colorado on the full range of military-to-military, military-to-civilian and civilian-to-civilian activities. The intent is to build upon the relationships that have been developed over time with the CONG. During this time military and civic leaders have been part of an exchange program focused primarily on Slovenia’s military and their pursuit of NATO.