WASHINGTON, May 30, 2017 —
Historians estimate that between 70 million and 85 million people were killed during World War II.
It was the most destructive war in history. Europe -- from the Ural Mountains to the United Kingdom -- was a charnel house.
Since Victory in Europe Day -- May 8, 1945 -- American service members have been an integral part of the effort to guarantee peace on the European continent. Working with allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 72 years have passed without a major conflict on the continent -- one of the longest periods of peace in European history.
The stability that led to that peace is threatened by Russia from the east and terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.
Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti represents U.S. military power on the continent as the commander of U.S. European Command, and represents the alliance’s resolve to maintain peace as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe.
One of the general’s jobs is to ensure Eucom and NATO work together.
In this effort, Navy Fleet Master Chief Crispian D. Addington and Croatian Command Sergeant Major Davor Petek work together to help the general achieve his aims. Addington is the senior enlisted leader based at Eucom headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and Petek is the senior enlisted leader based at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium.
“But we constantly work together,” Addington said during an interview with both men.
The missions are not too different, Petek said. NATO’s and Eucom’s priorities are almost the same, he said. But the two enlisted leaders work in different arenas.
The mission for both organizations is to ensure there are trained and ready troops that can deter aggression, execute operations and defend national and NATO interests.
The mission of U.S. forces in Europe and NATO has changed from one of being a headquarters focused on engagement to being focused on deterrence. Both are true warfighting commands.
The idea of a Europe “whole, free and at peace” seemed within reach a decade ago. Then Russian aggression began, with the country invading Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Republic of Georgia in 2008.
In November 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin set his sights on Crimea -- an autonomous province of Ukraine. In March 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea.
Today, separatists in eastern Ukraine, supported by Russian troops, are in battle in that region.
Russian revanchist behavior scared the nations of Europe. The Russian strategy is not quite war, but not peace either.
NATO responded and there are now multinational NATO units in the Baltic Republics and Poland. NATO allies patrol the skies and ships cruise the Baltic and Black seas.
This meant a change in posture for Eucom and SHAPE. “The last time the United States had this many troops in Europe, I was sitting on the other side of the wall,” Petek said. “Here today, I am sitting at one of the two strategic commands of NATO as the senior enlisted [leader]. The environment changed and NATO changed also.”
One bright example of this is the enhanced forward presence the alliance put in place in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Four framework nations -- the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States -- are the core of enhanced brigades based in the countries. Many NATO nations attached troops and capabilities to these units.
“This is an opportunity to not only accomplish the mission of the [enhanced forward presence], but also to work on interoperability especially on the enlisted level,” Petek said. “Even before they deployed those troops were talking to each other, learning about each other.”
From a tactical perspective, enlisted troops needed to know things such as if they could talk to each other, if their radios were compatible, and what the capabilities of the partner nations’ weapons systems are.
While NATO prides itself on interoperability, this is one of the few times the integration of units has been conducted at such a tactical level. “These are things that are important to enlisted [troops] to know so we can operate together,” the sergeant major said.
“Apart from the strong message these [enhanced forward presence] battlegroups send to Russia of our determination to protect the NATO boundary … it is the first time since the Cold War that we are deploying troops in these numbers,” Addington said.
The fleet master chief praised the opportunities for training both within the units and with host nation units.
The enhanced forward presence battlegroups also prompts noncommissioned officers to address differences in military cultures. For example, the U.S. battlegroup in Poland initially worked with international forces that did not have an empowered senior NCO -- not all militaries have a tradition of giving senior NCOs the responsibility to lead.
“Now,” Petek said, “they come to a U.S. group and there is a sergeant major there, and the expectation is if you go there, you better get a senior enlisted [service member] who can work with the U.S. unit.”
These nations realize there is the need to have a senior enlisted leader standing right next to the national commander because the battlegroup commander has a senior NCO standing with him, Addington said.
Both senior enlisted leaders reinforce their commander’s intent wherever they go, Addington said, and the message, he added, is “95 percent the same. We want to make sure the troops are ready and able to do what they are expected to do.”
There are multiple events throughout the year to engage senior NCOs. Many of them are combined events. “The international senior enlisted seminar is a major event we do every year,” the fleet master chief said. The seminar brings roughly 40 senior enlisted leaders together to talk about current events and ways to build strategic partnerships.
“There are many events that may be a Eucom or a NATO event and we will both go with the boss, because we have U.S. senior leaders and NATO senior leaders and we are one team,” Petek said. “There is no ego here. It’s all about working together to meet the boss’s mission and intent. That’s the bottom line.”
One aspect both men noted was the different views of enlisted troops throughout the alliance. “We have levels of, let’s call it ‘enlisted empowerment,’ that range from 100 percent to zero because we still have nations that don’t even have an NCO corps,” Addington said.
NATO is not in the business of changing national systems, but there are expectations for NCOs when they arrive to take a job in a NATO unit or headquarters.
“We want the nations to understand that if you want to send your best and brightest to serve together with us to accomplish whatever task we have, this is what we expect them to be able to do, these are the qualifications we expect them to have, this is the education they should have, and the nations need to ensure their enlisted folks have those qualifications for these NATO jobs,” Petek said.
NATO is an alliance, not an authoritarian command. The troops still belong to the nations that supply them
“The greatest benefit of having the sergeant major and myself there is I provide the U.S. perspective and he provides the international perspective -- that piece that I have not grown up with,” Addington said. “We are able to get to what’s right for the nation and what’s right for NATO across the line.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)