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Sgt. Matthew P. Dannenberger, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, assists a Ukrainian soldier in firing the M-240G machine gun during exercises last week at the Stary Krem Training Center in the Ukraine.

Sgt. Matthew P. Dannenberger, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, assists a Ukrainian soldier in firing the M-240G machine gun during exercises last week at the Stary Krem Training Center in the Ukraine. (Donald E. Preston/ U.S. Marine Corps)

Sgt. Matthew P. Dannenberger, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, assists a Ukrainian soldier in firing the M-240G machine gun during exercises last week at the Stary Krem Training Center in the Ukraine.

Sgt. Matthew P. Dannenberger, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, assists a Ukrainian soldier in firing the M-240G machine gun during exercises last week at the Stary Krem Training Center in the Ukraine. (Donald E. Preston/ U.S. Marine Corps)

Cpl. Ammon R. Grant, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, represents the Marine Corps during exercise Peace Shield’s opening ceremony on Thursday.

Cpl. Ammon R. Grant, Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, represents the Marine Corps during exercise Peace Shield’s opening ceremony on Thursday. (Donald E. Preston/ U.S. Marine Corps)

A company of Marine reservists arrived last week in Ukraine for a two-week mission designed to train troops from three Black Sea nations to perform peacekeeping in their at-times volatile region.

The 200 Marines, from Company F, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment of Nevada and Utah, will train with 250 troops from Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan on the Crimean peninsula.

“The morale is way up there,” said Sgt. Stephen Hedland by telephone from Ukraine. “They’re really excited about it as a whole, and I’m totally looking forward to this.”

Training will include convoy operations, counter-ambush techniques, checkpoint operations and personnel and vehicle searches.

There also will be some live-fire exercises, and the exercise will culminate with a two-day amphibious operation that moves into a peacekeeping scenario.

“More than anything, we’ve got Marine Corps martial arts training on the schedule,” said Lance Cpl. Robert McCook, also on the phone from Ukraine.

“I’m looking forward to that a lot. I can tell they like to stay in shape and can see they’re pretty intense. I want to see how they react to Marine Corps martial arts.”

Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan have all experienced political strife in recent years.

The three nations also border the volatile Chechnya region of Russia as well as other potential hot spots.

The exercise is being performed as part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

Training will not be just for the grunts and their comrades.

Officers from the four nations also will practice command and control techniques.

The Marines arrived Tuesday for the exercise, called Operation Peace Shield.

Training is scheduled to run through Aug. 15.

Safety is the first goal, according to Maj. Ben O’Rourke, the Company F commander.

Troops will be firing AK-47 and M-16 rifles and M-240 ground-mounted machine guns during live-fire exercises, and possibly mounted guns as well from the Ukrainians’ armored vehicles.

But ultimately, the Marines hope to help troops from the other three nations work together to keep peace in the region if necessary.

“And we want friendships and relationships built for us while spending our time here,” O’Rourke said by phone.

“We convey to the Marines that they have to have a sense of courtesy and respect as guests in Ukraine. They should be inquisitive, eager to speak and learn from the Ukrainians and (troops) from the other countries and tap into the resources they have here.”

For many of the young Marines, it will be their first experience like this.

“I’ve been on nothing this extensive,” 21-year-old Lance Cpl. David Durant said by telephone.

“I’ve been with the unit on other deployments.

“Communication is kind of awkward, but we’ve got some really good translators here. Being military men, both sides can pretty easily get the same points across.”


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