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Illinois National Guard supports multinational training exercise in Egypt

Nearly 40 Illinois National Guard Soldiers participated in Bright Star Exercise 2023 in Egypt Sept. 1-14.

More than 8,000 military personnel from 19 countries participated in the exercise that included maritime, land and air operations.

The Illinois National Guard Soldiers served as the higher command of the training units and facilitated the training by writing detailed scenarios to challenge the subordinate units.

“Bright Star has been a great opportunity to build upon our relationship with our Egyptian counterparts, improve our individual aptitude as staff Soldiers, and demonstrate we can perform at a high level in a fast-paced, joint and multinational environment,” said Brig. Gen. Justin Osberg, the Deputy Assistant Adjutant General – Army, Illinois Army National Guard, and the Exercise Control Group Director of Bright Star Exercise.

The exercise scenario pitted fictional neighboring nations against one another, creating both a military and humanitarian challenge with the U.S. and Egypt forming a combined joint task force to support the host nation’s response to the aggressor nation.

Maj. Kory Harms of Springfield, Illinois, is a logistics officer assigned to Joint Force Headquarters and served as the host nation government representative in the exercise.

“I have always played a role as a logistician in previous exercises, but here I’ve been playing the role of a civilian-appointed leader – from a local mayor all the way up to the head of state – to facilitate the exercise,” said Harms.

He said the exercise forced him to look at military operations and humanitarian relief from all sides.

“I learned the importance of working with nongovernment organizations like USAID or the International Committee of the Red Cross, and what they bring to bear during military and humanitarian operations, and how we fold that into our mission,” said Hamrs.

Maj. William Konovsky of Lisle, Illinois, is a military police officer assigned to Joint Force Headquarters. During the Bright Star exercise Konovsky served as the chemical officer, which is something he said he was mostly unfamiliar with, but thankful his Egyptian military counterpart was well versed.

“My counterpart is a chemical officer and he’s been teaching me a lot,” said Konovsky. “I have been teaching him the staff processes and the flow of work, so I think we’ve both learned a lot while challenging the training audience at the same time.”

Konovsky said multinational training exercises force you to get better.

“Learning how to communicate, to slow down and understand each other, in an operational environment will help me in future joint operations.”

Sgt. 1st Class John Watts of Springfield, Illinois, is a human resources noncommissioned officer assigned to Joint Force Headquarters and served as the medical officer during Bright Star exercise.

He said it has been a challenge to learn the role of a medical officer on the fly, but he and his Egyptian counterpart figured it out together quickly and the exercise was smooth for them.

“The lens the U.S. looks at military responsibilities compared to Egypt is very different,” said Watts. “It took a couple of days to get that understanding of exactly what our role and responsibilities are at this level.”

Watts said it’s important to learn about the Egyptian military and culture.

“Getting to know our counterparts so if we ever needed to conduct real world operations together, we know how each other operates and we can get right down to work,” said Watts.

Chief Warrant Officer 1 Michael Frais, a military intelligence Soldier assigned to Company C., 341st Military Intelligence, and a Chicago resident, has participated in seven multinational exercises previously.

He said he enjoys building rapport with the host nation’s military personnel, socially interacting with them, and learning the intricacies of their culture and language.

“Part of the challenge is learning the personalities of the leaders and international counterparts and molding how we facilitate the exercise accordingly,” said Frias.

Staff Sgt. Mariola Ferenc of Chicago is a linguist assigned to Company C., 341st Military Intelligence. She said her role in the higher command intelligence cell during Bright Star allowed her to learn and experience other aspects of her military occupational specialty. Ferenc said it was interesting working with the Egyptian Army and experiencing a different culture.

“It builds you,” she said. “It brings you outside of your bubble to experience and do other things with other cultures, both professionally and personally.”

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