From massing an entire armored brigade combat team in Poland to a lone major serving in Greece, the U.S. Army is continuing its push to build partnerships across Europe.
“Why would we go alone with anything? It’s important that we are strong members of the [NATO] alliance,” said Col. Jason Riley, commander of the U.S. Army NATO Brigade.
Col. Phil Brooks, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, which just completed a year as the regionally-allocated force to Europe, agreed.
“As the regionally-allocated force, we had the opportunity to train daily with multiple countries from the Baltics to the Black Sea, and that’s important because that’s the way ahead,” he said. “This is the strongest alliance, and we have to be able to fight together every day.”
The work Riley, Brooks and their soldiers have been doing across the European continent is part of U.S. Army Europe’s effort to reassure America’s allies in the face of Russian aggression. This push includes Operation Atlantic Resolve, which deploys American soldiers to train with their NATO partners, and the addition of an armored brigade combat team rotation into Europe beginning next year.
On Wednesday, Riley and Brooks spoke to Army Times about their respective missions during the Association of the United States Army annual meeting.
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Soldiers from 1st BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, just came home from a six-month deployment to Europe, Brooks said. This was the unit’s third rotation into Europe in the past year, with soldiers spending time in Hungary, Poland, Germany and the Baltic States.
“We had companies and teams throughout each and every one of those countries, with additional forces in Germany,” Brooks said. “We were there to assure our allies, and the rapport we’ve built with our allies over there has just been amazing.”
During their time in Europe, company commanders from the brigade got the chance to interact daily with general officers and chiefs of defense, Brooks said.
The soldiers also conducted crew- and platoon-level gunneries on their Bradley Fighting Vehicles, M1 Abrams tanks and Paladins, he said. In a series of firsts, they also fired the Abrams tank for the first time in Estonia, Lithuania and Georgia, Brooks said. They also fired Paladins and Howitzers in Estonia.
“The armored brigade sends a strong message,” he said.
In addition to assuring their allies, the soldiers gained valuable training while in Europe, Brooks said.
“As we’ve transitioned from counter-insurgency to decisive action, these soldiers have gotten repetitions of shooting the tanks, shooting the Bradleys, so the young leaders were building a strong foundation of crew and platoon gunneries,” Brooks said.
One of the brigade’s key events during its regional allocation to Europe was Exercise Anakonda 16, which saw the entire brigade come together in Poland for the live-fire, multinational exercise, Brooks said.
In addition, about 200 soldiers attended the Basic Leader Course, which is a requirement for promotion to sergeant, while they were in Germany.
His soldiers enjoyed their time in Europe, Brooks said.
“Aside from the training benefits, there were also cultural benefits where they got to see some of the cultural experiences in each of those countries,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity to interact with leaders from other nations, our allies.”
Now that their regional allocation to Europe is complete, soldiers in 1st BCT will continue to build on the training they received in Europe, Brooks said.
“We’ll train through our platoon level tank and Bradley and Paladin certifications … and in the spring we’ll go to the National Training Center to continue with those exercises,” he said.
While Brooks focused on building readiness for his brigade, Riley and his team worked to build individual readiness for the soldiers serving in NATO billets across the continent.
The U.S. Army NATO Brigade, which isn’t very well known outside U.S. Army Europe, is responsible for the readiness of all Army personnel assigned to NATO organizations. The brigade, which has its headquarters in Sembach, Germany, and its two subordinate battalions provide training, logistics and human resources support to soldiers serving in 28 locations in 18 countries.
“If you’re an Army soldier assigned to a NATO headquarters, we are your Army support element,” Riley said.
The noncommissioned officers and officers assigned to NATO get to work largely on their own in unique missions, he said. In many cases, they also earn joint credit, a critical career requirement for field-grade officers, he said.
“There are a lot of people who are looking for something different,” Riley said. “This is our representation of the U.S. Army, so we have to send our best out to these positions. It’s good for the individual soldiers, it’s good for NATO.”