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Marines Embed With Mongolian Troops

FIVE HILLS TRAINING CENTER, Mongolia -- The Five Hills Training Center is about an hours drive through the countryside outside the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar. The name, at first glance, almost seems misleading because for as far as the eye can see the site is surrounded by more than five hills.


Story by U.S. Army Sgt. Catherine Talento
Posted August 10, 2006
Thursday, August 10, 2006

Five Hills is the site of this year's Exercise Khaan Quest. Mongolian troops have been furiously working to prepare the site for more than 1000 troops from the U.S., South Korea, Fiji, Cambodia and other nations that are set to arrive here next week.

Members of the Mongolian 150th Peacekeeping Battalion are working to clear patches of grass for vehicle checkpoints. The 150th is one of Mongolia's most deployed units and many of them have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, they are using picks and hand shovels to clear the ground, but it's not the sight of the Mongolians working that draws the attention, it's the digital camouflage mixed in with all the green tiger stripped uniforms that draws the eye. Two United States Marines are working alongside the Mongolians, clearing rocks, grass and dirt.

GySgts Bruce Montoya and Jean-Yonel Ulceus are embedded with the 150th. For the past three months they have lived with, worked alongside and trained with their Mongolian counterparts.

"It's a very structured life," said Montoya. "We get up, do PT, which is usually a run followed by a series of stretches and then after morning formation we find out what the work detail is, we run to the site. Actually, we pretty much run or march everywhere."

The embed process is a part of the Global Peace Operations Initiative, a five year program managed by the U.S. Department of State to address gaps in international peacekeeping operations. The two Devil Dogs are learning and sharing ideas and techniques with Mongolian Non-Commissioned Officers.

Although, in the U.S. military NCOs are mostly responsible for the daily training and day to day operations. In Mongolia an event like this one, is designed and overseen by officers.

"It's been interesting to see their willingness to learn," said Montoya. "Previously the older Soviet mentality was don't ask questions, but learning from us it's interesting to see how they are willing to absorb information...how their minds and imaginations work."

"They are incredibly hard working," added Ulceus. "We are mostly working with NCOs and even here this group is all NCOs. Before, there would have been an officer overseeing all of this, telling everyone what to do, but they are out here and they took control of the assignment."

It hasn't all been easy. While several of the Mongolian troops speak English, neither Marine speaks Mongolian instead they rely on interpreters and facial expressions to get the information across.

"We've become pretty good at reading faces," said Montoya. "We can pick out the different subtle expressions and understand a bit more what they are trying to say."

Another obstacle the Marines have had to overcome is the Mongolian cuisine. "It's very good," said Montoya. "Just very hot, boiling even."

Montoya and Ulceus demonstrate a technique for getting through the meal without burning their mouth. Each takes a spoonful of soup then asks someone nearby a question. This gives the food time enough to cool down before being eaten. The meal is then washed down with a bowl of salty milk tea before the platoon heads to formation and the afternoon's mission.

This afternoon's mission is a dress rehearsal for the opening ceremonies of Khaan Quest which officially begins Monday, 14 August. While U.S. troops will participate in the exercise the two Marines will still continue their embed, participating in Khaan Quest not as Americans but as Mongolians.

The unit, Montoya explains, could be called upon to provide vehicle checkpoint security or play the role of terrorists trying to infiltrate the compound. Whatever the mission the two Americans will work shoulder to shoulder with their Mongolian allies.

Montoya and Ulceus will stay with the 150th for nearly five months before heading back to their units. Both say they will leave Mongolia with a greater appreciation for the training and responsibilities of the Marine Staff Noncommissioned Officer. Their the hope that the seeds of change they helped inspire will take hold not only in the 150th but throughout the Mongolian Armed Forces.