PENANJONG GARRISON, Brunei -- When Pvt. 2nd Class Matthew Graham joined the Army from his hometown of Grand View, Ind., population of about 750, in December 2016, he had no idea that just six months after joining his unit he would find himself halfway across the world making history in a country that he hadn’t known anything about.
“Absolutely nothing, I had never even heard of this country before,” said Graham. “I immediately went to Google and started finding out where it was located, what the culture was like, just trying to get as much information about this country as possible.”
Graham had volunteered to be a member or a 24-member team from 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, who would travel to the small nation of Brunei Darussalam, via a training stop in Hawaii, to engage in the U.S. Army’s first army-to-army exercise with the country.
Brunei, which has less than half the population of Indianapolis, is located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia and shares a coastline with the South China Sea. Most of Brunei lies within the Borneo lowland rain forests region, and the Royal Brunei Land Forces have amassed great experience operating in that environment.
Private Graham, who had recently graduated as an infantryman from boot camp and Advanced Initial Training at Fort Benning, Georgia, had no jungle experience.
“I’ve never been to a real jungle, it’s very different, everything is darker and it is very humid. So it’s nothing like being at home, back in Indiana,” said Graham.
Half of the eleven-day training event, Exercise Pahlawan Warrior, was jungle operations training led by the RBLF.
Once the U.S. Soldiers arrived in Brunei they drew much of their equipment form the Brunei Army. The Soldiers didn’t pitch tents, but instead set up hammocks, ponchos and mosquito netting.
Unfamiliar with the equipment, Graham needed assistance.
Fortunately, the Bruneian Soldiers conducting the training were eager to help. One Bruneian noncommissioned officer, Lance Cpl. Azhar Bin Haji Basri, 1st Bn., RBLF, ended up taking the young private under his wing and helped him build confidence.
“I had no idea how they set everything up, so immediately when we got to where we were going to sleep for the night, Lance Cpl. Azar helped me set up everything. He showed me where I should put my equipment, which trees to tie my hammock to—everything I needed to know so I would not get wet if it rained at night. He was just extremely helpful.”
Lt. Col. Shawn Eaken, commander, 1-151st Inf. Bn., has been training alongside his Soldiers and watched as his team was able to smoothly integrate with the Bruneian force.
“Strategic objectives of nations and senior leaders are only met by the efforts of Soldiers on the ground, partnerships like PVT Graham and LCPL Azhar get at the very intent of these exercises,” said Eaken.
During the exercise’s closing ceremony, Graham was presented a coin of excellence from Maj. Gen. Timothy M. McKeithen, deputy commanding general—National Guard, United States Army Pacific, for a job well done.
Since Graham joined his unit he has maintained a busy training schedule. January through April he went to Camp Atterbury, Ind., to work on squad and platoon infantry tactics. This was followed by a 21-day training exercise with the brigade his unit is currently associated with, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.
When he found out he was going to conduct his annual training in Hawaii, Graham said he was excited—"I mean, some people never even get to go to Hawaii and I get to go for free and get paid to do it, so it was really cool.”
His unit is scheduled to attend the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., Pvt. 2nd Class Graham said he can’t wait for the new opportunity to train.