SLUNJ, Croatia–“A year ago I would have never believed I would be leading American and foreign Soldiers.”
It’s a long way from The Plain at the United States Military Academy to the Slunj Training Area in Croatia. But for 2nd Lt. Benjamin Soos, a 2014 graduate of West Point, that has been his journey and today he is leading his American Soldiers and a Croatian contingent through Exercise Immediate Response 15.
Co-sponsored by NATO members Croatia and Slovenia, Immediate Response 15 is supported by the U.S. Army Europe. It’s designed to enhance regional security in the Balkan region, through training events, cooperative planning and most of all just soldiers getting to know their peers from other countries.
The 23 year old Soos, from Grand Island, New York, is a platoon leader in the 54th Engineer Battalion part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza, Italy. He is just one soldier sharing his experiences and training with his NATO friends, bringing his enthusiasm to a new place while learning more about those he may one day fight with.
“It’s pretty cool to see how much we have in common,” he said. While adding, “We all have the same stories to tell even the same jokes, it’s almost one Army.”
On the job, Immediate Response 15 enhances multi-national staff planning and the opportunity to share tactics and procedures which Soos says are not all that different from country to country. “From the beginning, the planning process is exactly the same, it’s the same tactical mindset,” he explained.
Soos echoes what leaders and soldiers have said about being a part of U.S. Army Europe and the opportunities that serving in NATO presents.
“All the training we do is to strengthen the alliance, to strengthen the partnership, it’s awesome, I love it.”
For 28-year-old Pvt. Buddha Dangol the journey to Immediate Response 15 has been amazingly different than that of his platoon leader. The combat engineer was born in Nepal and just a few years ago moved to El Monte, California. He will one day apply for his U.S. citizenship.
When talking to him it is clear to see the enthusiasm he has in getting the chance to represent the country he hopes to one day be a citizen of.
“Wherever you go a soldier has to defend their country,” he said. Proudly adding, “I’m lucky to be a part of the US Army.”
His words describe the NATO culture of 28 nations working together. Immediate Response 15 is also designed to enhance regional security in the Alliance’s southern region.
“I have made a lot of Croatian friends actually, that’s how you make one team, one by one.”
The platoon leader from West Point and the Soldier from Nepal, are just two of the over one thousand Soldiers taking part in Immediate Response 15. On the ground, in the heat and dust of a training area, they are sharing a common training experience and their life’s journey one soldier at a time.
Soos explained what is happening here as,”We all joined our Army for the same reason, we have the same ethical and moral vision for our country.”
Then he proudly added, “I signed up to lead American sons and daughters, I’m lucky to lead the sons and daughters of other countries as well, it’s very cool.”