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SHAPE reflections on SNCO Summer Camp

My wingman and I, hailing from the France and the United States, respectively, were privileged to represent the noncommissioned officers of SHAPE at the 9th Annual Senior NCO Summer Camp for NATO and Partnership for Peace countries. We were hosted by the Republic of Croatia, at Lora Naval Base, Split, for a week. Our objective was to meet other SNCOs from around the Alliance and learn new methods of leadership from across the cultures represented. Attending the camp with us were representatives from Albania, Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Slovenia, and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia[1].
Our activities allowed us to experience the full range of Croatian military air, land, and sea capabilities. At the "Red Land” military field we were familiarized and trained to shoot Croatian H9 pistols from 15 meters, before moving to a range exercise with the VHS D1 rifle firing from 300, 200, and 100 meters. Later, we participated in a life preserver exercise where we worked as a team to rescue one another from open water into a rescue boat, learning very quickly that naval rescue is a new concept for our group. Another team building activity involved being blindfolded before helping one another accomplish a human-puzzle objective. Additionally, we flew by Mi-8 helicopter from the naval base in Split to the 93rd Air Force Base in Zadar where we toured fire-fighting aircraft and met with the Croatian national demonstration pilots.
At the end of our duty day we couldn’t get enough of Split or each other, so we hit the lively city for thorough "NCO networking” over a few Croatian drinks while overlooking the beautiful bay. We swapped stories and laughed harder than I thought possible with a group of people struggling to speak the same language. But, if there is one thing that the NCO has in common across all cultures, its creative solutions for guiding the rambunctious subordinate—or having been the rambunctious subordinate—which makes for entertaining stories and lively conversation with new friends. Our jovial attitude was slightly dampened when our Italian counterpart learned of his short-notice deployment to Libya, but our close-knit teams’ natural reaction was to encourage and support him with the shared experience of what we all know comes with news of deployment, and a common commitment to accomplish the mission.
The most enchanting experience of the week, however, was our peaceful exploration of Croatia learning about her storied history. We sailed to the village of Maslinica on the island of Šolta where we were welcomed by lagoons of beautiful turquoise blue water and a local fish farmer who let us dive with his fish. We hiked a portion of the island and rested by a small cliffside chapel that was originally built by monks escaping the Ottoman Empire in the 1700s. At the end of the week, we climbed up a steep incline to reach a hilltop fortress in the village of Knin. This majestic location is historically significant as it is a landmark of victory of Operation Storm, the last major battle during the Croatian War of Independence, only 22 years ago. The panoramic view was a perfect capstone to end a breathtaking, beautiful and insightful week at the SNCO Summer Camp.
[1] Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.
Story by Tech. Sgt. Sarah Weber, USAF, and Sgt "Ralph", French Air Force

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