Since 1996, North Carolina National Guard and Moldovan Soldiers have been training together under the State Partnership Program, which pairs National Guard Soldiers with the armed forces or equivalent of America's global partners and allies.
NCNG Soldiers routinely travel to Moldova to conduct combined training missions as part of their cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship with the eastern European country.
"Most recently we sent Soldiers from one of our infantry battalions to Moldova to conduct infantry maneuver skills and train with their mortar platoon," said U.S. Army Col. Vernon Simpson, the commander of the NCNG's 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team—currently deployed as the Multinational Battle Group-East headquarters in Kosovo. "Next year we hope to expand on that and send more infantry Soldiers to Moldova to expand that relationship."
The NCNG's 30th ABCT is serving in Kosovo as part of NATO's peace support mission, alongside their Moldovan counterparts, in order to ensure safety, security and freedom of movement for Kosovo's citizens. Together, their forces represent two of more than 30 nations participating in the KFOR mission.
"We routinely train with Moldova," Simpson said, "but this is the first opportunity we've had to actually partner with them in an operational environment."
The Moldovan Soldiers serving in Kosovo are assigned to MNBG-E's counterpart Multinational Battle Group-West, but were briefly attached to MNGB-E in order to give the partners soldiers a chance to build on their already established relationship.
The Soldiers working directly with the Moldovans saw how the State Partnership Program has benefited both countries while performing their mission in Kosovo.
"It definitely provides a familiar face for the Moldovans and for us," said U.S. Army Capt. Sam Barrow, a NCNG officer serving in Kosovo as the commander of A Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 252nd Armor Regiment—a 30th ABCT unit based out of Williamston, North Carolina.
"Coming into this, some of the Soldiers in my company have had a chance to work with the Moldovans before and if not, they recognize their patch and the Moldovans recognize the 30th ABCT's patch. It kind of broke down barriers early on."
The brigade's well-known "Old Hickory" patch pays homage to U.S. President Andrew Jackson, and finds its roots in the 30th Infantry Division's World War I and II legacy.
Barrow also said the State Partnership Program had prepared his team to work with the many multinational contingents represented throughout KFOR. His 1-252 AR battalion headquarters also oversees forces from Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.
"It takes the initial shock factor out of it," Barrow said. "These guys are not just from some other country. They are our partners, both here and back home."