Monday, September 29, 2008

Mongolia post #2: hiking

The hiking was incredible around the training area. I was permitted to go hiking after the end of the training day, as long as I organized a group hike with other soldiers. Of course, pictures won't do it justice because like Patagonia the place is much too large to fit within any snapshots, but here are a few things anyway:

First of all, I found a 400ft high slanted slab of marble which made for great and relatively safe rock climbing practice:

This is the view from the top edge of the slab, with Sergeant Dirkes passing through a notch:

On top of most mountains, and along many roads, there are obo, a sort of cairn which have a pole in them, with some Tibetan prayer flags attached to the pole. Whenever we come by one, it is customary to walk around them three times and add a stone to the pile.

Most striking was the vastness of the terrain, so that I was only able to get anywhere after work by running for an hour or two at a time. I felt perfectly safe, since the people there are extremely friendly and always willing to take in a guest. As a result of the size of the place, almost everyone travels by horseback or on motorcycle, and sometimes in 4X4 cars.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Training in Mongolia

Mongolia was fantastic! In fact, I cannot just do one blog post for it so I will do as I did earlier for Torres del Paine - in a few themed posts.

This one is about the training, as the header very explicitly indicates. But I was not really able to take pictures during the training itself for one simple reason - the training was very good, and I didn't have the leisure to go around playing photographer.

First of all - I had been told our platoon would be the trainer platoon. That was not in fact true. The trainers were selected from each participating army - Indian, Nepalese, Mongolian, Thai and US. There was then one trainee platoon from each army, and a lot of Mongolian support. This system worked very well, and all the soldiers were very professional.

This Mongolian officer is telling us during an After Action Review that our Cordon and search method is "bad - very bad." "I made a list" - he says - "of all the things that went right, and all the things that went wrong. Eight things went right, and fourteen things went wrong. Very bad."

The Indian Army was very good - their officers are very proficient, and they have a lot of experience in places like Cashmere.

As for the Nepalese, they have a lot of UN experience in places like Haiti and DRC Congo. They also like to sing and dance, with drums in the tents at night, and with AK-47 magazines if they are stuck in formation long enough.

Many of the UN peacekeeping / peace enforcing TTPs were very similar to US army TTPs. Convoy operations, for example, were just like Iraq but with a blue flag and a different set of rules of engagement:

The range was fun, and I had time to take pictures there. Here is our motor sergeant reading up on the AK-47 and RPK before coming up to shoot:

And I really enjoyed being a safety and trainer for the M4 carbine live fire range. Here, SPC Thompson helps a Mongolian soldier safely clear a feeding malfunction.

The Mongolian army also had shoot the Dragunov sniper rifle. I know, that's not really UN related, but it is a very nice weapon so I was glad I got to shoot it.

The lanes for this exercise were: convoy, checkpoint, aid relief distribution, patrol, cordon and search (contraband interdiction), and disarmement. This is a picture of our platoon with a Mongolian contingent of role players and trainers, and a Nepalese officer, on a UN color BTR-60: