JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska –
The Alaska National Guard (AKNG) and Mongolia participated in Gobi Wolf 2022, an international exercise focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, in Bayankhongor Province, Mongolia, Sept. 5-10.
Since 2003, the AKNG and Mongolian Armed Forces and agencies have cooperated in peacekeeping exercises and disaster simulations as partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. Most recently, the relationship manifested in Gobi Wolf.
Training in Gobi Wolf over the years has ranged from subject matter expert exchanges on cold weather operations and disaster resource logistics to simulated infrastructure failures and a massive earthquake 400 miles into the high plateau of the South Khanghai mountains.
Alaska Army National Guard Maj. Nathan Pooler, branch chief of plans and operations, Joint Force Headquarters, has coordinated and planned AKNG’s involvement in Gobi Wolf for the past four iterations and joined as a facilitator this year. What makes the partnership so effective, according to Pooler, is the interpersonal scale in which the AKNG and Mongolian agencies can interact.
“Mongolia has a diplomatic relationship with the U.S., but on a national scale, the connections can be pretty broad,” said Pooler. “However, between the AKNG and Mongolia, the relationships are reinforced year after year and sometimes between the same people.”
Its similarities to Alaska – the long winters, vast distances and varied topography – make Mongolia an ideal location for both nations to train.
“This year’s exercise focused on responding to an earthquake, and that’s something many Alaskans have first-hand experience in,” said Maj. Chelsea Aspelund, gender adviser for the AKNG and 176th Wing’s chief of public affairs. “The AKNG participating in training opportunities in Mongolia gives our Guardsmen the opportunity to share their experience and learn from others.”
Nine members of the Alaska Air and Army National Guard presented expert academic discussions and facilitated training lanes on public information, critical infrastructure recovery, casualty evacuation via helicopter, basic firefighter exchange and hazardous material operations.
Aspelund led a discussion on Women, Peace and Security, a United Nations resolution unanimously adopted in 2000. The talk touched on how relief provided during an emergency can vary depending on the gender of the recipient. She said such disparities make conversations centered on WPS critical in disaster preparedness and relief training.
“The State Partnership Program gives us the opportunity to start the thought process early,” Aspelund said. “It allows for a culturally developed perspective. Exercise participants can dig deep and look at their own culture and challenge their norms to determine how to best refine their emergency response.”
The collaboration extended beyond the conference room when exercise participants from around the world took to the field to train each other in hazmat decontamination, search and rescue and mass medical care.
“We spent a lot of time discussing command and control using a different system from them,” said Tech Sgt. Ryan Smith, a fire protection crew chief in the 176th Civil Engineer Squadron and exercise facilitator. “This section was particularly engaging, as I learned it wasn’t that far off from what they already have in place. Their command structure is a little different, but the practices are similar.”
Airman 1st Class Colin Corsetti, 176th Civil Engineer Squadron, was a facilitator for the field exercises in the hazmat lane.
“I was able to present as part of the weeklong exchange and learned how to work through an interpreter,” Corsetti said. “Overall, I was able to teach what I know and gained valuable experience in communicating in an intercultural setting.”
By strengthening bonds and learning from each other, Mongolians and Alaska Guard members enhance interoperability, preparing them for an actual disaster.
“Alaska has many skilled people eager to train abroad to learn and exchange what they know in emergency response,” said Corsetti. “Anything that increases the chance that lives are saved or disasters averted is well worth the time and effort.”
Gobi Wolf is a multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief engagement between the military components of Mongolia's government and U.S. Army Pacific.
Approximately 40 U.S. military and civilian participants, including experts from the active duty and reserve components of U.S. Army Pacific and Pacific Air Forces, Alaska and Washington National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, and Alaska’s City of Palmer Fire and Rescue, as well as exercise planning and facilitators from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s Institute for Security Governance, participated in the exercise.
Other countries participating included Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Vietnam.