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Reassurance, Interoperability Key for U.S. Army in Europe

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2014 — Exercises and the promise of more exercises in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine has reassured America’s European allies, the deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe said here today.

Speaking at a Defense Writers Group breakfast, Maj. Gen. Walter E. Piatt said the command is well-situated to answer threats to security in the region and to further interoperability among NATO allies and partner nations.

The exercises mean the United States takes its commitment to NATO and to allies very seriously, Piatt said. The exercise program is not new, he stressed, noting that the U.S. Army wanted to continue to build on interoperability with NATO allies gained from more than a decade of war in Afghanistan. But the program has grown with Russia’s actions in Ukraine, he added.

Shifting to preparedness

U.S. Army Europe had been training U.S. and multinational troops for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan for years at state-of-the-art facilities in Grafenwohr and Hohenfels, Germany. “So we were meeting the operational demand,” the general said. “We needed to shift from meeting the operational demand to meeting operational preparedness.”

Coalition forces -- very well-schooled in counterinsurgency -- had to learn again the full range of operations, Piatt said. “We didn’t know what was next, but we knew we wouldn’t do it alone,” he said. “If we’re going to deploy together, we need to train together.”

The first series of NATO exercises under this new plan took place in November. Officials were going to rotate a unit from the United States to Germany for Exercise Combined Resolve, but sequestration spending cuts quashed that, Piatt said, so U.S. Army Europe used local units and went forward.

Proof of principle for multinational brigade

The exercise combined U.S., Czech and Slovenian forces making up most of a brigade. Nine countries participated with about 3,000 service members. Piatt called it the “proof of principle” in creating a multinational brigade.

“What we learned was our allies are very competent,” he said. “There are experienced forces throughout Europe.”

This was followed by Combined Resolve 2 and Sabre Junction, and the command is ramping up for Combined Resolve 3. Soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, are arriving in Europe with their tanks, armored personnel carriers and other accouterments for the exercise.

Going forward, U.S. Army Europe would like to bring over a heavy brigade combat team, Piatt said, and when the exercise is finished, it would leave its equipment in Europe for follow-on forces.

U.S. Army Europe has roughly 31,000 soldiers -- a far cry from the more than 300,000 assigned to the command at the height of the Cold War. Yet these forces -- plus rotational units -- will be a seed for NATO interoperability, the general said.

Interoperability is about relationships

At its core, Piatt told the defense writers, interoperability is all about relationships. Building trust and understanding each other’s capabilities and procedures are key to coalition operations -- from disaster response to full-out war, he said.

“You don’t want to meet the team on the ground for the first time,” Piatt said. “We saw this many times in Afghanistan, … where you would be meeting forces from other nations for the first time when you have a real operational demand. We’re doing that now so the relationships and trust are in place before deployment.”

He spoke of a recent exercise in which a Hungarian joint tactical air controller called in a German Tornado to provide fire for a U.S. armored battalion. “That’s how it works. That’s interoperability. That’s how the alliance works,” the general said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)