Cadets deployed to Macedonia as part of the Cultural Understanding and Language Proficiency (CULP) Program kicked off a stretch at the Macedonia Military Academy’s summer session on June 11th. We arrived for in-processing on the 10th, and were promptly issued the Macedonian version of TA-50, which included, among other things, AK-47 M-70s that were produced in Yugoslavia. These weapons will be used in a blank-fire field exercise towards the end of the camp. Other highlights of the camp will be trips into the surrounding area, and instruction by a dedicated staff of cadre headed by Sgt Maj. Sasha Tostoevsky who earned both Ranger and Special Forces tabs in the United States. We will also participate in classes taught by renowned experts on subjects such as the expanding world of cyber-warfare, understanding and using non-governmental organizations to generate humanitarian aid, and engaging in Key Leader Engagements or KLEs.
Cadets were treated to opening remarks by Lt Col. Nikola Kletnikov, the commandant of the Macedonian Military Academy, and Emil Dimitriev, the Macedonian Minister of Defense. Both iterated that the summer program, which has existed since 2009, constitutes a great leap forward for the region. As Minister Dimitriev said, “Cadets from Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Turkey, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States conducting training together would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.” He went on to say that he hopes such exercises “will breed ongoing regional and global cooperation and therefore regional stability and global security.”
Following the opening ceremonies, the cadets commenced with two days of both classroom instruction and hands on tactical skills instruction. ROTC’s own Lt. Col. Michael Feret assisted by Sgt. 1st Class’ Bandy and Metcalf taught the KLE course and provided extensive real-world examples owing to their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Cadets also engaged in land navigation instruction which proved to be a learning experience for the American ROTC Cadets at how to adapt to other countries’ navigation practices. Most of the Balkan nations follow the same standard for land navigation. Also, cadets received preliminary instruction on how to break down, clean, reassemble, and fire the AK-47 M-70. (Personal note, I envy the ruggedness of the system.)
Cadets then commenced with an exercise on the 13th that tested the skills they had practiced the previous two days. Cadets were given coordinates and encouraged to use the native population to their advantage. The inhabitants of Pepelishte–the town near us– were supposedly informed of the operation much in the same vein as the famed operation Robin Sage in North Carolina. However, the KLE portion of the event was conducted with cadre occupying certain points and playing various roles.
Cadets also have found time to participate in camaraderie building events such as ping pong and volleyball. The volleyball matches became especially fierce as cadets from various nations claimed theirs to be superior at the sport. Also, the cadets found time to watch the opening ceremonies of the 2014 FIFA World Cup with a majority of the cadets pulling for Croatia as a sort of hometown hero. The cadets also had opportunities to visit Krivolak in their down time, and have certainly made use of the numerous cafes that dot the town.