By Sgt. Zach Sheely
Public Affairs Office
“This has been the best experience of my life,” said Staff Sgt. Clinton Mumbower, the medical readiness noncommissioned officer with the 2nd Battalion, 130th Field Artillery.
Mumbower was part of a joint multinational team of medical and hazardous materials experts from the Kansas National Guard and British Army who participated in a training exchange with firefighters in the Shirak Province of the Republic of Armenia July 18-28.
The training team consisted of 12 Kansas Army National Guard Soldiers and six Royal Army Medical Corps soldiers with 6th Battalion, The Rifles. Together, they trained approximately 200 Armenian firefighters at six Ministry of Emergency Situations fire rescue stations across Northwestern Armenia.
“The Ministry of Emergency Situations is working to increase the firefighters’ ability to provide medical care and to protect themselves and others from chemical weapons and industrial chemical hazards that may occur in everyday life,” said Capt. Jason Davee, a physician assistant with the 73rd Civil Support Team, KSARNG.
The training teams led instruction on first-response care and the steps to assess and triage a casualty. The course also included basic chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat awareness, recognition and response information.
“These fire personnel are already very knowledgeable,” said Cpl. Michael Ward, a combat medic with the 1077th Ground Ambulance Company, KSARNG. “They already have a pretty good basic life-saving knowledge base. We just sort of tweaked that and updated it, gave them some new tools that they can use.”
The Kansas Guard and British soldiers presented the training curriculum in small, joint teams to a rotating shift of firefighters at fire rescue stations in the towns of Akuryan, Amasia, Artik, Ashotsk, Gyumri, and Maralik Armenia.
1st Sgt. Sarah Sell, the noncommissioned officer in charge, said she was pleased with the rapid cohesion formed by the American and United Kingdom soldiers, and the training they delivered.
“This team gelled quickly and worked well together,” said Sell, who serves as the first sergeant of the 190th Air Refueling Wing Security Forces Squadron in Topeka. “That’s a testament to the professionalism and level of expertise of these soldiers.”
The Kansas National Guard and the Republic of Armenia are partners in the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program and this circumstance management event was the first direct peer exchange of experience with the Shirak Rescue Service in the 14-year partnership.
While the Kansas and British soldiers were there to teach, the education was mutual.
“I’ve learned so many things,” said Cpl. Nigel “Scotty” Scott, a combat medical technician with 6 Rifles. “One example is, I have seen these guys make things happen with limited resources. They’re great at improvisation.”
When combining multiple languages and cultures, communication would be impossible without translators. A team of six Armenian interpreters provided this vital link in communication.
“The interpreters have been phenomenal,” said Davee. “Not only are they well versed in the language itself, they also studied before we even got here. So even a lot of the acronyms that we’re using and medical terms, scientific terms, they’ve taken the time to study.”
Armenian interpreter Sophie Simonyan said that, in Armenia, it is common to speak multiple languages, and English courses start at the primary school level.
“Being a very small country, we have the need to learn many languages,” said Simonyan. “Learning English and speaking it well is the first step to communicating with anyone in the world.”
In addition to translating the language, the interpreters also served as liaisons to help cultural assimilation on all sides.
“Through our fantastic interpreter, we could joke back and forth, and once we established that we both have the same sense of humor, they accepted me, and we moved right along as a family,” said Spc. Matt Chastain, a combat medic with the 1077th.
For many of the Kansas and British soldiers, it was their first trip to the Republic of Armenia.
“I’ve never been out of the (U.S.) before,” said Pfc. Audrey Wilson, a combat medic with the 1077th. “I’ve also never been in a teaching position before, so that’s some excellent experience for me that I can take back to my unit and be better at communicating there as well.”
Multinational partnerships are strengthened at the ground level between peers, and 6 Rifles Cpl. Jessica Pike said that this mission was about more than improving health care and medical readiness.
“It’s been about building a relationship between the (three) countries,” said Pike. “Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve done that.”
While this was this first event of its kind, many participants noted the good relationships forged with their Armenian counterparts.
“I think we’ve built some strong bonds,” said Ward. “Anyone I’ve talked to has said ‘You can come stay at my house.’ That is a bond. That’s about as good as you can get.
“My experience has been fantastic I’d come back in a heartbeat.”