WASHINGTON — Soldiers with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, recently returned home after a rotational deployment in Europe that was focused on building readiness and improving interoperability between U.S. and allied forces in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve 2017.
The 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, and the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, replaced two units in the European area of responsibility — continuing the commitment by the United States to the collective security of its NATO allies and maintaining the enduring peace and stability of the region.
Brigade commanders from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team spoke Dec. 13 about their time in the region as part of an Army Current Operations Engagement Tour media roundtable at the Pentagon.
10TH COMBAT AVIATION BRIGADE
In March, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade deployed 60 aircraft and 200 support vehicles to Europe from Fort Drum, New York.
“Aviation is my No. 1 critical capability requirement. Without it, our adversaries know we’re not serious,” said Col. Clair Gill, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade commander, relaying the words of Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of United States Army Europe.
During their time in Europe, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade partnered with 20 nations and more than 25,000 NATO military personnel during Operation Saber Guardian 17, the region’s largest multinational exercise.
Correspondingly, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade executed Operation Falcon’s Talon, which focused on the Army’s aviation ability to survive and fight in the early phases of an attack on a NATO partner from a peer, or near-peer threat.
“This unique exercise tested the … planning [ability], the creativity, and mettle of our leaders,” Gill said. “It forced them to manage risk and make decisions at their levels, without higher headquarters oversight — much the way that our Army chief of staff describes the future of battle.”
During Operation Falcon’s Talon, junior leaders from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade received alert notifications, scattered aircraft from large airfields, hid in remote areas, integrated with local partisans, and executed non-traditional aviation operations in a replicated denied or harsh environment.
Overall, “these exercises presented unique and challenging training while supporting real-world operations,” Gill said. “[It’s] a type of experience not available to our Soldiers and leaders at home station or at some of the combat training centers.”
Currently, the geographical end state for the rotational combat aviation brigades participating in Atlantic Resolve is to position all forces “forward” in Latvia, Poland, and Romania.
“The men and women of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade showed great poise to learn and grow as we set the bar for future rotational units to deploy in this heel-to-toe fashion,” Gill added.
“We know how to deploy our formation from end-to-end. We know how to operate with partners and allies,” he said. “And we know the key to logistical support forward. The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade is ready to step into the area again to answer the call of our nation and allies.”
3RD ARMORED BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM
The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team deployed to Europe to deter near-peer adversaries while continuing to focus on internal training and fleet readiness, said Col. Michael Simmering, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team commander. In turn, the unit participated in Saber Guardian and 13 other multinational exercises.
More than 3,500 Soldiers, 250 tracked-weapons platforms, and other associated equipment deployed out of Fort Carson, Colorado.
“From the beginning of January to October of this year, our brigade was the first armored brigade to begin a continuous presence of deployed armored brigades to Europe,” Simmering said.
During their time in the region, the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team conducted live-fire training and situational training exercises on a nearly daily basis. Moreover, the unit fired more than a million rounds ranging from tank and artillery rounds to individual small arms weapons, Simmering added.
“Throughout that time, it was clear that our allies are absolutely capable and committed to the defense of the alliance,” Simmering said. “Together, we demonstrated how the lethality of a U.S. armor brigade combat team is magnified when we train as part of a greater NATO force.”
FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT, LOGISTICAL CHALLENGES AND INTEROPERABILITY
Freedom of movement throughout the region continues to be a significant challenge for all U.S. forces, according to both commanders.
“Coordinating movements across multiple borders involves weeks of planning and clearances, and any one error can jeopardize an entire large operation,” Gill said. “European coordination can be difficult, given that 29 sovereign nations all have legitimate reasons to develop their own policies.”
The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade experienced their share of logistical problems while preparing for exercise Saber Guardian. In their steadfast commitment to demonstrating the expeditionary capability of an aviation brigade, the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade loaded up all their equipment and drove 1,300 miles over the course of five days and nights to the exercise location.
“That was an once-in-a-lifetime experience for those Soldiers,” Gill said. “It was amazing to listen to the creative way leaders would solve problems. How would they relay [information] from the front of a convoy to the back of a convoy … when you’re not allowed to pull over on the Autobahn or a dirt road?”
As the U.S forces in Europe continue to participate in peacetime operations, the Army will continue to have issues moving freely throughout the region, Gill added. However, the time spent exercising with allies and partners helps to create policies and procedures that will aid U.S. forces in the future.
The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team also had to deal with several issues stemming from transporting hazardous cargo across the continent.
According to Gill, to comply with European standards, vehicles designed to haul hazardous materials will need to be modified at a significant cost to the U.S. government. The Army is in the process of addressing those issues.
In addition to the logistical challenges, both brigades had to find a standard way to communicate and work with their NATO allies and partners.
“When you have forces that are combined at the battalion level and below, from different nations, it presents unique challenges,” Simmering said.
In the future, Simmering believes that interoperability will involve more than just a new piece of military equipment. Successfully integrating all forces starts with a common understanding of doctrine and processes and a dedicated effort from the NATO alliance.
Overall, the U.S. Army is getting a comprehensive review of the challenges that Soldiers might have to face in the future, Simmering said, as well as the logistical capabilities available to help the U.S. and its allies maintain security in the region.