Even with the long relationship between Macedonia and Vermont in the state partnership program, the National Guard brigade commander who led the first embedded Macedonian unit in a United States formation in Afghanistan said there were challenges in “taking platoons and putting them in our MP companies.”
Language was a major challenge that had to be overcome. The brigade, headquartered in Vermont did not have soldiers who could speak Macedonian.
“There’s a difference between taking a language test and speaking English when you are being shot at,” Brig. Gen. William Roy said.
He explained that one way around that difficulty was to include an American in each four- or five-man gun truck.
Roy added that rank structure issues had to be resolved before deployment.
“There can only be one commander,” he said, adding that for the officer corps “it was a matter of [the Macedonians] seeing how we operate as NCOs and officers.”
Roy said with the exception of their uniform, the Americans and the Macedonians were using exactly the same kind of equipment.
“We did our very best to see they had what we had,” he explained.
The Americans also made the calls for fire to avoid confusion and ensured that the Macedonians and the Americans were operating under identical rules of engagement.
Roy said that it took some time for the Macedonians to understand that flexibility was essential and not remain locked into pre-determined mission sets.
“They certainly learned to be adaptive,” Roy said.
There were two key training events with the Macedonians – one in Europe and the other at the Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, La., before the deployment.
It was during this time that matters came to a head with a Macedonian liaison officer who saw his job in different terms from what had been agreed upon before the mission began. The officer was replaced.
“We had a very solid foundation and could speak openly,” Roy said. “When you say no, you’ve broken the barrier.”
The Brigadier General explained that the deployment integration was stressed to make the soldiers more comfortable with each other and to build trust. He said that “you have to physically break that bond” of Americans sticking with Americans and Macedonians sticking with Macedonians.
Roy said that he was impressed by the courage of the Macedonian soldiers and the skills that their NCOs showed through the deployment.