New Jersey U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers supported the Albanian Armed Forces (AAF) during the Albanians' critical NATO Combat Readiness Evaluation Exercise in Bize, Tirana, Albani, during September. Guard members joined their counterparts from the U.S. Army’s 4th Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) out of Fort Carson, Colorado.

The two Army components have served in key advising and support roles with the Albanian Armed Forces in preparation for the CREVAL. The New Jersey National Guard has partnered with Albania for more than 20 years under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The SFAB Soldiers have been in Albania for six months, embedded with the Albanian Light Infantry Battalion Group.

In July, the two organizations worked together to demonstrate war-fighting functions for the Albanians at the 44th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s eXportable Combat Training Capability exercise at Fort Drum, New York.

“XCTC really opened the door for the New Jersey Guard and SFAB partnership,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Martinez of the 4th SFAB. “Our working relationship paid dividends and it was an eye-opening experience. I don’t think our success would be as great as it has without the New Jersey National Guard SPP already being here on the ground. It spring-boarded us into action quicker by having that baseline established, and we got way more done in six months than we otherwise would have.”

Leading up to the NATO CREVAL, the SFAB maneuver advisor team built tremendous relationships with the AAF.

“It was crucial to have the U.S. here, the SFAB and New Jersey together, because we did it all with this team,” said Albanian Maj. Enerjol Harka, executive officer with 2nd Battalion, LIBG. “They both have trained us and have given us their experience, and if we succeeded, we did it because of them. These are the best relationships we could have.”

The official NATO assessment of the CREVAL is forthcoming, but all parties are optimistic about the success of the Albanian forces. Their performance demonstrated Army force-readiness with highly sophisticated inter-component and international collaboration in critical advising and support roles.

“Our partnership with Albania continues to strengthen every event, and we continue to assist the Albanian Armed Forces as they increase their defense capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Calenicoff, executive officer of the 44th IBCT, New Jersey Army National Guard. “The joint and combined efforts of the AAF, New Jersey Army National Guard, 4th SFAB, and NATO are the strongest they have been. I am very proud of the accomplishments the Albanian Armed Forces have achieved this past year with the assistance from our organizations.”