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News | Feb. 17, 2023

New Jersey Guard Assists State Partner Albania in NCO Development

By Staff Sgt. Bruce Daddis, 444th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

The New Jersey National Guard and Albanian Armed Forces resumed military-to-military training at Land Forces Headquarters Feb. 5-9. 

The teams exchanged best practices of their respective fields of expertise, such as indirect fire, forward observation, vehicle maintenance and signal communications.

The New Jersey National Guard and Albania have been partners since 2001 as part of the 30-year-old Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.

During their five-day training in Zall-Herr, Albanian Armed Forces members and more than 30 Soldiers of the 254th Regiment (Combat Arms), New Jersey Army National Guard, conducted noncommissioned officer development. The combined team covered topics from NCO leadership and roles in training to physical fitness and readiness. Service members of both forces also took a diagnostic Army Combat Fitness Test.

Compared to the U.S. military model, the role of the noncommissioned officer has been developing since a new law passed by the Albanian Parliament in 2004, according to Brig. Gen. Bilbil Bitri, commander, AAF Training and Doctrine Command.

“The NCO role and responsibilities have been altered in different periods. However, before 1995, the NCOs were trusted only in administrative positions or as specialists who were required to provide a very narrow expertise,” Bitri said. “This is a milestone since, although different roles, it enhanced the NCOs on the same importance as officers. This legitimized the importance of the NCOs as leaders, instructors and subject matter experts in different domains. They maintain the discipline and provide direction, but also care, motivate, and inspire the troops they lead.”

Soldiers of the 254th Regiment have provided courses, workshops and familiarization visits and helped draft a new NCO doctrine that has been approved and implemented in the AAF.

“Our focus has been to get the Albanian Armed forces to NATO standards, as far as NCO professional development is concerned,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Kirkpatrick, senior enlisted leader of the 254th Regiment. 

In September, the AAF Light Infantry Battle Group demonstrated its combat readiness in a NATO validation exercise, earning the praise of the U.S. Army’s 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade.

“In my time working with [the AFF], they have improved leaps and bounds in this regard,” Kirkpatrick added.

NJNG and AAF leaders plan to identify different approaches to improve AAF education and training, including familiarization visits and train-the-trainer instruction. Guest speakers from New Jersey also expect to present at the AAF Command Sergeants Major Course.

“We owe much of what we have done to our friends from New Jersey,” said Bitri. “Our partnership is a true success story.”