Far from Home, European Soldiers Train for Peace
FORT POLK, La. (AP) _ For soldiers like Lithuanian Army Lt. Raimondas Ivanauskas, the fictitious island of Aragon is all too real.
Invented for a NATO peacekeeping training exercise, the island divided by secession and ethnic conflict is quite similar to Croatia, where Ivanauskas recently did a six-month tour.
``I expect to be sent back there,″ he said.
Nearly 700 soldiers from 14 Central and Eastern European countries gathered at Fort Polk on Monday for ``Cooperative Nugget ’95.″ They will be joined by about 3,000 troops from the United States, England and Canada for the first exercise on U.S. soil involving Partnership for Peace nations.
The Partnership is a post-Cold War NATO initiative aimed at fostering cooperation and developing joint peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts with former Soviet bloc countries.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry will be among officials at today’s opening ceremony. The exercise ends Aug. 26.
On Aug. 18 _ ``D-Day″ _ the soldiers will be flown to ``Aragon″ as United Nations peacekeepers and confronted with a variety of challenging situations.
``We don’t build it to a specific place,″ said Chip Engle, a U.S. Department of Defense official who helped design the scenario. ``We look at what’s going on in the world, everything from Somalia, to Bosnia, to Haiti.″
As the troops prepared to practice peacekeeping, 150 soldiers from Fort Polk’s 46th Engineer Battalion left Monday for a real mission in Haiti.
Each Partnership for Peace contingent numbers 40 to 51 soldiers. For some of the armies, such as Slovenia’s, it represents the first time their soldiers have been on a mission on foreign soil.
Most of the exercise will require long days of hard training for peacekeeping duties ranging from staffing traffic checkpoints to coping with sniper fire and minefields.
There also will be a free day and a field trip to Houston and the Astroworld amusement park.
While settling into barracks in the mid-90-degree heat, soldiers _ many on their first visit to the United States _ talked about what they had heard about Louisiana and what they wanted to see.
``The French meals, jazz music, hot weather, mosquitoes, and alligators,″ summarized Lt. Lolita Zegeriene, a public affairs officer for the Lithuanian army.
``We want to see New Orleans,″ Hungary’s Maj. Dezso Hajos said. ``We heard that was the birthplace of jazz.″
Some were baffled and intrigued by signs for local specialties they couldn’t find in their pocket English dictionaries, including boiled crawfish and Po’ Boy sandwiches.
``We want to try the Creole kitchen,″ Hajos said. ``We hear it is a hot kitchen.″