Denmark trains 108th Wing Airman in leadership course through NATO exchange program

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JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. — Air National Guardsman, Tech. Sgt. Sarah N. Gibson, a quality assurance inspector from the 108th Maintenance Group, here, participated in a leadership course in Denmark through the Military Reserve Exchange Program from June 24 to July 8, 2019.

The primary purpose of MREP is to provide National Guard and Reserve participants training similar to wartime assignments, while enhancing their ability to work and communicate with NATO alliance partners.

As one of over 40 American military members, Gibson was selected for a leadership course involving guided-group teachings by a Danish instructor.

Through a series of modules, group presentations, and discussions, Gibson said that her class of about 20 members from several branches and countries, were able to assess and reflect on their strengths and areas of improvement when communicating across cultural lines within a team.

“We were able to see how a group forms together and forms those roles,” said Gibson. “At the end of every module, you would rate not only your group, but yourself—‘What was your participation like?’, ‘Do you feel like you were heard and understood?’—things like that.”

Gibson said, each participant also took turns being an observer for their group, “to help adjust how everyone was working.”

While a structured itinerary specified days for both training and cultural immersion, Gibson learned about the Danish people and their culture throughout the entirety of the program.

As with any country, citizens within that country can differ by region, said Gibson. She pointed to a Danish woman in her class photograph and noted that the woman—a longtime stay-at-home mother from the countryside of Denmark, had a different background from the young father of two, a citizen of the city Copenhagen, both in her class and serving in the Danish military. 

“My experience was that the Danish were very open-minded people,” said Gibson. “They were overall curious about others’ culture and lifestyle.” This showed in their observance of the U.S. Independence Day, in which the Danish Homeguard held a barbecue on July 4th.

Gibson also took part in activities beyond the training day that included two beach trips, a bike ride to a Viking village, shopping, and dining out. 

Gibson said she first heard about MREP through her supervisor, Chief Master Sgt. Edward Heacook and did not want to miss out on the opportunity. 

So in December of 2018, she began preparing her application, along with her preference on which allied country she would most like to visit, and sent it to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. to be evaluated. Once selected, the program officials chose which members best met that allied country’s program criteria and placed the individual accordingly.

Gibson encourages others to participate in the program because she notes that, if ever in war, having such cultural exposure with allied forces allows military members to better focus on the mission and work seamlessly due to their familiarity with that culture. 

Upon entering MREP, Gibson said she loved to travel and looked forward to experiencing a new culture. By the end of her experience, she grew as an individual and as a leader.

“Essentially you become a part of their military,” said Gibson. “I learned how they taught and how they prepared leaders in real world situations. I became a better trainer.”