Story by A1C Shannon Chace on 08/03/2019When Cody Albert graduated from North Pole High School he didn't plan on joining the military. He started classes at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and realized he wasn't quite ready to attend college. He began looking at other options.
"My parents were active duty Air Force so I had traveled around the world during my childhood and I loved that experience," Albert said. "But I didn't want to be active duty because I didn't like that my dad was stationed all over the place; I wanted to stay local because this is where I grew up."
One of the many opportunities afforded to those who serve in the Alaska Air National Guard is the ability to serve in their hometown while also having the chance to travel and experience working with different cultures.
As part of the 2019 Military Reserve Exchange Program, Staff Sgt. Cody Albert, a crew chief with the 168th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, traveled to Denmark and trained with the Danish Home Guard. Participating in this training helped enhance his leadership skills, build international relationships, and increase awareness of other military organizations.
When Master Sgt. Justin Freling, flight chief with the 168th AMXS, received an email about the opportunity to apply to the 2019 MREP, Albert was one of the first people he thought of.
"Cody is a hard worker. He is always ready to assist others." Freling said. "Encouraging Cody to apply for this program to further his leadership capabilities and broaden his network in another country, that was an easy decision."
At first glance the name Military Reserve Exchange Program gives the impression of two people in similar jobs switching places.
"We thought it was like an exchange student program and we were going to send him to work with a NATO unit and in return we were going to receive a NATO member to come work with us," Freling said.
That is not always the case. There are different opportunities depending on experience and branch of service.
"What I was involved in was leadership training where you get to learn basically the European military structure of their [professional military education]," Albert said.
The intensive college-style training focused on communication and leadership skills. Working in a small group of five that included members from Denmark and Poland, the language differences could sometimes pose a challenge.
Albert explained that overcoming these challenges helped him develop skills that he can use to train Airmen at home.
"I take a lot of the new Airmen that come back from tech school or that are about to go to basic and tech school, and I'll help with their training," Albert said. "This training helped me be able to understand the different types of learning perspectives."
While serving in the 168th Wing, Albert has traveled to a variety of countries and places to include Germany, Guam, Qatar, England, Belgium, and Japan. Thanks to the kind outgoing personalities of the Danish members he served with, he said Denmark has become his new favorite trip.
"The Danes have great hospitality and they made the environment very friendly where it seemed like you weren't in another country but like you were in another state. You felt at home," Albert said.
Participating in the 2019 MREP opened a lot of doors for learning, new friendships, and creating stronger international alliances. Albert hopes to return to Denmark and continue working with the Danish Home Guard and the MREP as an instructor next year.
"The ability to network with our allies within NATO and further develop Cody's leadership abilities, this turned out to be a great decision," Freling said. "Cody is still telling us about the things he learned over there."