TASHKENT -- Uzbek soldiers were recognised for their efforts in joint training exercises held by the Mississippi National Guard at Camp McCain in the United States from December 12-15 as the two countries continue to strengthen military co-operation.
The joint exercises were part of a series of training, meetings and discussions since the start of 2019 between troops of both countries.
Two sergeants from the Uzbek military's Special Operations Battalion returned from the United States with awards after taking part in the annual "Best Warrior" competition at Camp McCain.
Senior Sgt. Sardor Mamarasulov was named "Best Foreign Junior Commander", and Junior Sgt. Mukhriddin Ochilov was recognised as "Best Foreign Soldier", the Mississippi National Guard said in a post on its Facebook page.
The event marked the first time that foreign partners participated in the Mississippi National Guard competition, said the National Guard press office.
US welcomes Uzbek participation
During the competition, Uzbek and American soldiers completed difficult tests side by side. The first day of training began with an obstacle course.
On the second day, a physical fitness test determined the participants' strength. The troops also took an exam on military theory in front of a review board consisting of officers.
The third day of the competition was the most exhausting. Participants began the day with a 12-mile quick march followed by the US Army Rifle Qualification Course. As part of this training, "troops completed a realistic drill that included moving to an objective, administering first aid and engaging targets with different weapons systems", the Mississippi National Guard said on Facebook.
On the American side, Staff Sgt. Mitchell Scofield and Senior Airman Bo Wilcher topped the rankings. They received awards similar to their Uzbek colleagues.
US residents warmly welcomed the Uzbek soldiers' participation in the competition.
"That's pretty cool! I'm glad to see such a huge progressive step forward in our relationship with our SPP [State Partnership Programme] country Uzbekistan," wrote Brandon Teddy Tedford on Facebook.
"I'm so proud of our Uzbek competitors! They are doing a fantastic job!!!" wrote Amanda Dillon Willeret, also on Facebook.
In a short period, troops completed a short course on US military topography, prepared equipment compliant with NATO standards and studied new physical-fitness standards.
"This success proves once again that the military personnel of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan are professionally trained and hardened, have excellent physical fitness and can compete in any conditions," the Uzbek Defence Ministry said in a statement.
Mamarasulov and Ochilov, the two Uzbek soldiers recognised in the competition, successfully disassembled and assembled US firearms, including a Beretta pistol, an M4 carbine and an M240 machine gun, the ministry said.
The joint training highlighted the growing relationship between Uzbekistan and the state of Mississippi, which delegations from the United States and Uzbekistan pledged in 2019.
In January 2019, Uzbek special forces participated in exercises conducted by the Mississippi National Guard. The exercises were called "historic" because they marked the first-ever training of Uzbek soldiers in the United States.
At that time, Abdusalom Azizov, the then-defence minister who now heads the State Security Service, visited Florida and met with US Central Command leadership.
On May 14, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and Mississippi National Guard Commander Janson Boyles arrived in Uzbekistan. They visited the Academy of the Armed Forces of Uzbekistan and met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
During the meeting, Mirziyoyev noted that this visit was evidence of a new era of strategic partnership between Uzbekistan and the United States.
"The United States trusts Uzbekistan. Your country is carrying out an active foreign policy and provides ample opportunities for business development. A new spirit of freedom reigns here," Bryant told the Uzbekistan National News Agency (UzA) in an interview during the visit.
A US military delegation led by Mississippi National Guard Lt. Col. Brad Howe visited Uzbekistan last September. US and Uzbek pilots conducted joint exercises and conducted helicopter flights at a garrison near Tashkent.
Uzbekistan no longer a 'hermit state'
"At the end of the year, many foreign media outlets published articles with high praise for reforms in Uzbekistan. Particular emphasis is placed on how Uzbekistan is opening up to the world and is no longer a 'hermit state,'" said Tashkent-based political scientist Umid Asatullayev.
"The joint work of Uzbek and US soldiers proves this better than anything, especially against the backdrop of the 'paranoia' that remains in the post-Soviet space regarding the 'American threat' and the undesirability of co-operating with the United States," he said.
Informal gatherings of soldiers of the two countries have contributed to the development of friendly relations.
On December 6, Uzbek officials attended the annual Coalition International Night at the US Air Force base in Tampa, Florida.
Uzbek soldiers prepared traditional dishes that they shared with visitors and presented examples of their folk clothing, traditions and culture.
"This event once again confirmed the participants' unwavering commitment to joint work and co-operation in order to ensure security and stability around the world," the Uzbek Ministry of Defence said in a statement.