Military News

Thursday, September 10, 2015

USARAK Soldier expands Chilean partnership

by Sachel S. Harris
USARAK Public Affairs

9/10/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Sgt. 1st Class Ken Miller said he is always eager to learn. Recently, his eagerness to learn and become a better Soldier took him more than 8,000 miles away from home.

Currently stationed at the Northern Warfare Training Center, Miller traveled to Rio Blanco, Portillo, Lose Andes and Santiago, Chile to learn summer and winter mountaineering operations with the Chilean Army. This first-time joint training opportunity, which established a relationship with the cadre of the Chilean Mountain School, is part of U.S. Army Alaska's initiative to enhance partnered high-altitude, cold-regions training.

"Any chance we get to interact with our partners provides us an opportunity to learn new techniques," said Lt. Col. Michael
Braun, commandant of the Northern Warfare Training Center. "The Chileans are experts at working in mountainous terrain and it gives us a chance to see different terrain and test our skills in a new environment."

While there, Miller strengthened his rock climbing and animal packing techniques as well as his avalanche awareness and safety, and winter bivouac techniques. On any given day, Miller would be rock climbing at a local site, foot marching out of Rio Blanco to participate in a river crossing exercise, or skiing at Portillo Resort, where he also enhanced his snowshoeing skills. For the mountaineering expert - who has climbed many mountains, including mountains in Afghanistan and Denali, the tallest peak in North America - this class was an eyeopener.

"I have worked with other foreign militaries before, but, this goes deeper than that. It was really valuable to see how they operate and how similar it is to how we do things," Miller said. "It also opens up lines of dialogue between subject matter experts in mountain and cold region operations, which makes us all better organizations," Braun added.

When it came to the language barrier, Miller said he didn't have much time to prepare ahead of time. He arrived with very
basic Spanish and a few words of climbing vocabulary.

However, he was surprised to discover the language barrier wasn't the most challenging part.

"Working with the mules were tough," he said while chuckling. "I think the mules, and to an even greater extent, the mare we used to lead the mules; could tell that we were foreign and didn't like it."

Using the mules, the students were taught how to care for, pack and lead mules throughout mountainous terrain.

Overall, Miller said he believes he is a better Soldier after his 16-day course.

Braun said he hopes this exchange is the beginning of something bigger.

"It would be great to have Chilean Soldiers come here and train alongside USARAK Soldiers or serve as a guest  instructor," Braun said.

"There are many things we can learn from our partners, which will make all Soldiers in USARAK better and more deadly
on battlefield."

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