British Royal Marines Commando Marine Lewis Cope (far left) participated in the 11th International NATO and Partners for Peace NCO Winter Camp at Pokljuka, Slovenia, March 2 to 9. Cope was the only non-NCO selected to attend and compete at the event. (Courtesy photo)
Story by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Patton
NAPLES, Italy – When British Royal Marines Commando Marine Lewis Cope, a 32-year-old who serves with the International Military Police at Allied Joint Force Command Naples, heard about a winter course for NCOs, he wanted to be a part of it.
The only barrier for Cope, as one of the few junior enlisted servicemembers at JFC Naples, was that he didn’t meet the required NCO rank to participate in the 11th International NATO and Partners for Peace NCO Winter Camp at Pokljuka, Slovenia.
The March 2 to 9 course, included 27 NCOs from 14 NATO and Partners for Peace nations. It also included the only participant who wasn’t an NCO, Cope.
"You have to be keen, motivated and want to be challenged,” said Cope, who had the backing of the senior enlisted member at JFC Naples to attend the course. "If you don’t ask, you can’t get it.”
Cope, with more than nine years of military experience under his belt, including time in Afghanistan, Canada and Norway, viewed the chance to represent JFC Naples at the camp as an opportunity to push himself and to visit somewhere new.
The course’s main event was the culminating biathlon competition in the snow-peaked Slovenian mountains. The event, which combines skiing and shooting, was new to Cope. The Royal Marine said learning to stay composed during the shooting portion was crucial as it’s more difficult after the physical exertions of skiing. As participants were penalized with extra laps of skiing for each missed shot, there was motivation to do just that.
"The targets are smaller than what you’re used to,” said Cope. "Taking that extra few seconds to relax and calm down rather than hurrying, it’s probably the difference in doing an extra few laps.”
It wasn’t just a biathlon that tested the selected participants, though. The servicemembers were challenged with leadership exercises, avalanche rescue skills and the importance of being prepared in a harsh environment. The servicemembers also learned about the functioning of the NCO Corps in different countries.
"It wasn’t just staring at Powerpoint, you actually had to engage your brain,” Cope said.
Another thing that brought a fresh perspective to Cope’s appreciation of leadership was the different challenges and practical exercises that showcased different priorities and styles. Also, hearing from many senior enlisted visitors and lecturers to the course, including the senior enlisted advisor of JFC Naples, German Army Command Sergeant Major Jürgen Stark, made him appreciate the multiple factors that lead to a decision.
"The picture can often be a little bigger than you appreciate,” said Cope.
He also commented on the benefits of working alongside folks from other militaries and troops he doesn’t interact with daily.
"You realize there’s a lot more similarities between people than differences,” Cope said.
As he reflected on his experience in Slovenia, Cope noted that he’s appreciative to have experienced an event like the winter camp, an opportunity he acknowledged doesn’t come around too often.
He also urged fellow servicemembers at JFC Naples to seek out chances to broaden professional horizons.
"If you sit in your office and wait for someone to come tell you to do it, you might not go anywhere,” Cope said.
During the camp, troops also had the opportunity to visit the Military Museum in Pivka and take in the picturesque views of Lake Bled.
"Slovenia lived up to its reputation,” said Cope. "It’s a very beautiful country.”