CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait –
The 26 Soldiers of the 116th Military Engagement Team reached the midpoint of their overseas deployment in August 2016, having completed more than four months in countries including Kuwait, Jordan, Oman and Saudi Arabia while also traveling throughout Central Asia, the Greater Levant and the Arabian Peninsula working with military members of partner nations.
“The 116th MET is exceeding expectations,” said Col. Todd Hubbard, commander of the 116th Military Engagement Team. “We are being very proactive to add missions to our schedule and work with as many partner nations as possible. I am very proud of the hard work and dedication demonstrated by each team member.”
The team is spread throughout four countries with about half the team in Kuwait, a third of the team in Jordan and liaison officers operating in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait.
“Overall I think the unit has been highly successful,” said Lt. Col. Jaycee Shaver, the team’s executive officer who works primarily in Jordan. “We have seized the opportunity on several occasions to highlight the Virginia Army National Guard, the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and the Commonwealth of Virginia in our efforts over here in theater.”
So far, members of the MET have conducted engagements in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Oman and Uzbekistan, have traveled to Germany and England to participate in a multi-national exercise and have worked with Pakistani and Jordanian Soldiers in the United States. During these engagements, team members have covered a wide range of topics, including effective battlefield communication, disaster response and preparedness, marksmanship techniques, reacting to chemical, biological and neurological attacks and the military decision-making process.
“The work that we have done has been successful and rewarding for all parties involved,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Abbey, who works current operations in Kuwait. “We have been afforded the opportunity to positively impact other nations in several areas where their military forces are trying to improve and advance. The fact that a 26 person team can affect change or assist in improving another country’s military effectiveness has exceeded my expectations.”
In Jordan, the team has continued the work set out by previous engagement teams, building relationships and strengthening partnerships with the Jordanians.
“I knew coming into this that I would be engaging in interesting work that would force me to think outside the box as this is not a traditional mission,” explained Master Sgt. John Rothmann, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge in Jordan. “The responsibility, trust and freedom that has been given to me in order to accomplish the mission has been exceptional.”
In the midst of mission planning, preparation and execution, team members have had the opportunity to experience the unique and varied cultures of the nations they’ve visited and to build relationships with the soldiers of those nations.
“The most enjoyable part of the deployment for me has been experiencing the culture across the Arab world,” explained Capt. Matthew Guyer, who currently works with the team in Jordan, and previously served as a liaison officer in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. “I have been able to immerse myself in Saudi and Jordanian life unlike previous deployments where we were typically bound to a [Forward Operating Base].”
Lt. Col. Carl Engstrom, the team’s chief of operations, said he’d particularly enjoyed the opportunity to try new foods during his travels. “I’ve had the opportunity to sample lamb’s tongue and lamb’s brain in Kuwait, horse plov in Uzbekistan and camel in Oman,” Engstrom said.
Capt. Christopher Wille echoed Engstrom’s sentiments, saying, “The most enjoyable part of the deployment has been conducting engagements with our foreign partners. It’s been a great experience learning about their militaries and sharing our knowledge and culture.”
When not at work or on mission in foreign lands, team members are often hard at work on the goals they set for themselves at the
start of the deployment, both personally and professionally.
“One of my goals was to learn Italian and I’ve been studying that pretty consistently for about two months,” explained Rothmann. “I also wanted to increase my physical conditioning and have gotten stronger since I’ve been here because of the outstanding facilities afforded to me.”
For many, easy access to top notch gym facilities has made fitness a key priority.
“The most important goal to me is getting myself in shape,” explained Capt. Robert Maffeo, detachment commander for the team. “I have been doing my best to eat healthy and have enjoyed individuals like Master Sgt. Frank Mitchell giving me a hard time whenever I decide to indulge in some carrot cake. I’ve also been going to the gym a lot more than I would back home, with guys like Capt. Wille pushing me to improve.”
Another key priority for all team members has been keeping in touch with family members and friends back home.
“The internet has really changed the deployment experience,” Rothmann explained. “I feel as connected as I would be in the States and the options to stay in touch are pretty limitless. It’s a long change from what used to be waiting for hours in long lines to make a 15 minute call on a base phone with bad reception.”
Wille said, “The kids especially enjoy video calls on Skype. Because of their familiarity with the video calls, my youngest kids are always very confused when they can’t see when I make a regular phone call home.”
For others, like Engstrom, getting gifts for family members back home from the places he visits helps to bridge the distance.
“Whenever I go to a new country I try to buy my kids something unique from there,” Engstrom explained. “I send them a letter with a map of where I was, a little history about the country and an explanation of their gift. My son particularly enjoyed getting hats from Oman, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.”
Coming up for the Soldiers of the 116th MET is the pre-deployment site survey, or PDSS, by their replacements, the Soldiers of the 149th MET. Leadership from that team will visit both Kuwait and Jordan, and receive a first-hand look at their future work and living spaces. They will also get the chance to meet with key leaders in the region, and learn more about the mission that they’ll soon inherit.
“The MET has a strong tradition of preparing the next unit for their mission,” Hubbard said. “The 116th is the seventh MET and when we pass the torch, the 149th will be ready. We continue engagements, and the planning process, to ensure the 149th has a clear path when they arrive.”
Also ahead for the MET are more missions, to Oman, Jordan, Qatar and Lebanon, and, as Hubbard pointed out, setting the 149th MET up for success.
“This is a team that thrives on the opportunity to engage with our partners in the region,” Abbey explained. “If we can pass that on to the 149th MET, then they will be as successful as we have been so far.”