West Virginia welcomes Peruvian MPs during State Partnership Program visit

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Photo Credit: Sgt. Zoe Morris

West Virginia’s Camp Dawson was home to five Peruvian officers June 15 to 19, continuing a 20-year partnership between Peru’s Army and the West Virginia Army National Guard.

The WVARNG’s 151st Military Police Battalion hosted the visit, the first time that branch has been involved in the West Virginia-Peru State Partnership Program. Previously it has been concentrated on disaster management, humanitarian affairs and joint operations. The battalion was excited and honored to begin a new partnership, said Lt. Col. Dawn Bolyard, commander of the 151st.

“This visit is a building block in the partnership,” Bolyard said. “It’s the ability for the Peruvian military Soldiers to interact with our Soldiers and share training opportunities and to perhaps share some things that we wouldn’t think about. It’s really a priceless opportunity.”

The 157th Military Police Company, a unit of the 151st, invited Peruvian officers to observe the company’s annual training.

“We’ve got the 157th on the ground engaged in some pretty excellent training,” said Capt. Dallas Wolfe, head of security at Camp Dawson and liaison for the mission. “Out of the ordinary ranges where we did reflexive fire, transition fire and stress shoots. They got the opportunity to see that first thing.”

Due to the informal, discussion based nature of the visit, the officers were driven to the range shortly after breakfast on their first morning. No briefings or PowerPoint were needed.

With the company’s training underway, the Peruvians were greeted by roughly 10 Soldiers loaded down with Kevlar, M4 rifle, M9 pistol and other gear running down the dusty range road to the firing line, where they engaged in push ups, flutter kicks and other physical training while cadre simulated real-world chaos. With yelling, banging, blank rounds firing overhead, the Peruvians were very inspirited by the training, according to Lt. Col. Wagner Bardales, commander of 505th Military Police Battalion in Lima.

“Even though our doctrines are very similar there are still many aspects that I have observed that are very constructive for me,” said Bardales (through an interpreter). He continued that the Peru MPs do train on transition and reflexive fire, but the stress fire exercise was new and something he’d like to take back to his unit.

After visiting the firing range the military police moved across the Cheat River to train civil disturbance on a specialized campus.

With two platoons participating in training, the Peruvians were able to see large-scale formation exercises over two days. This allowed them to see the Soldiers go through “crawl, walk, run” phases.

“The big overall picture is to talk to them about how we handle peacekeeping operations and how the military police do it both internally and abroad,” said Wolfe. “That’s one of the main discussions we’ve had during this training event.”

In January, a contingent of 205 Peruvian service members departed to Africa to participate in a United Nations mission in the Central African Republic. Peru has a commitment to MINUSCA for 10 years, according to the Joint Peacekeeping Operations Training Center. In addition to engaging in MINUSCA, Peru has service members in Haiti, the Congo, Western Sahara, Ivory Coast, Abyei, South Sudan and Darfur, according to a report by Diálogo.

With these missions on the table, Bardales said he and his officers are very fortunate to have the opportunity to observe MPs form the Unites States.

“The overall vision is to get them exposed to how the United States Army, the West Virginia National Guard and the military police operate,” said Wolfe.” “We’ve had a mix of coming out to he field, showing the Peruvians how we conduct training in general as well as specific military police formations and practices.”

“The way that you are organized logistically and also the training environment you have is of interest to me,” said Bardales. “For example, the exercises of (person of interest) recovery in civil disobedience, exercises on how to clear rooms and buildings and finally the logistics – the equipment and vehicles that (the MPs) use.”

Capt. Brennen Sack and First Sgt. James “Dusty” Jones of the 157th were very welcoming, Bardales said.

“I know they were busy training,” he said “but they invited us in to their training and allowed us to learn firsthand. I cannot thank them enough for this opportunity.

“I knew that was going to be a great experience because the United States Army is very well trained and very well organized,” he said. “Even though I had an idea of how well-organized and well-trained (the Soldiers are) I am and still amazed with what I have seen. I have been taking notes based on the observations that I have made during the riot control exercises and see how we can implement these techniques into the way that we operate as of right now in Peru.”

The SPP is not only about training, however. The biggest takeaway is building a relationship, according to Wolfe. The WVARNG is building a strong and beneficial relationship with the Peruvians. By establishing a good working relationship, there can be continued opportunities for training for both the Peruvian and American service members. A large part of relationship building is sharing culture and generally spending time together just visiting.

“I’ve had a great time listening to their stories,” Wolfe said. While waiting between exercises, the Soldiers did what Soldiers often do – share stories from the field. The Peruvians spend rotations in remote jungle regions and the lieutenants, both from large cities around Lima, told stories about their time leading troops in these regions, one of which involved wild boar being accidently caught on fire by two privates, resulting in a large dinner of pork for the camp. The American Soldiers had a few stories of wild boar, too, and friendships were formed.

There were a few deer encounters while driving, and after a long discussion of wildlife, Jones treated the Peruvians to homemade deer jerky, much to their delight. As a fisherman, the Cheat River, bordering Camp Dawson, drew Bardales interest from the first day. He lamented that he had not brought a fishing pole, and was determined to pack one next time.

When asked about a possible trip of Guard members to Peru, Bardales said what he wants to show is the kindness of the Peruvian people and the beauty of his country.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful state with many nice and very charming people,” he said. “I would love to have the opportunity to come back at another time. Just to give you an idea of how much I really like it, how beautiful I do believe it is, I wouldn’t mind at all living here. It’s so peaceful and tranquil.”

“If given the opportunity to be a host for your Soldiers I will definitely love to first show them the geography of Peru. Peruvians are very charming and very friendly people. Also our food, they would definitely have to try ceviche, which is amazing.

“Of course, (I want them) to get to see how we as military members get to work together and operate in synergy with different civilian authorities as well as the civilians themselves,” he continued.

“In addition to that I want to say thank you and make it very clear and how happy and thankful we are for everything that you guys have done to make sure that we have the opportunity to observe these exercises and the opportunity to learn from your Soldiers and your leaders on how to operate under certain circumstances and during certain situations,” Bardales said. “I know it will be very beneficial once back in my country.”

The only drawback – agreed on by Peruvians and Americans alike – was the shortness of time they had to visit. During the closing ceremony, in which gifts and stories were exchanges, there was much laughter. In a short five days, according to both Bardales and Boylard, friendships were formed and no one involved would forget their time together.

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