Yesterday, 5th June, as Exercise ALLIED SPIRIT 20 commenced in Poland, a Telephonic Press Briefing was held to keep defence correspondents informed, reports Bob Morrison.
In normal times for a major exercise like ALLIED SPIRIT, which when originally planned was linked into the DEFENDER-Europe 20 (DEF20) exercise deployment, an APIC or JPIC (Allied or Joint Press Information Centre) would have been set up in the region to keep local, national and international media well informed and to provide transparency. The COVID-19, or Coronavirus, pandemic and the precautions needed to try to limit its spread mean the 2020 military exercise programme is now anything but normal and as a result specialist defence journalists from as far afield as Russia and the United States, plus everything in between from Bulgaria to the United Kingdom, who had registered interest in DEF20 and ALLIED SPIRIT 20 with USAREUR (US Army Europe) have been unable to attend.
Yesterday’s Telephonic Press Briefing was conducted to try to both keep journalists in the loop and answer their questions. The focus of the media event was the US-Polish cooperation in ALLIED SPIRIT, with three of the senior officers involved being on the line to first give an initial briefing and then answer questions from journalists. Those three speakers were: Brigadier General Christopher R. Norrie, Commanding General, 7th Army Training Command; Brigadier General Brett Sylvia, Deputy Commanding General-Maneuver, 1st Cavalry Division; and Colonel Kazimierz Dynski, Deputy Chief of Staff and J3 Division Chief in the General Command of the Polish Armed Forces. A transcript of their opening remarks follows:-
Brigadier General Norrie: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’m Brigadier General Chris Norrie, the Commander of 7th Army Training Command. On behalf of US Army Europe, thank you for taking time from your schedules to speak with myself, General Sylvia, and Colonel Dynski here, and Justin, thank you to you and our colleagues in Brussels for hosting this event, which makes it possible for us at the moment to have this conversation.
I do want to highlight that I’m on this phone call today from my basement here in Grafenwöhr, Germany, where I’ve been quarantining for almost two weeks now so that I can comply with host-nation requirements for entry from Germany, and that I will take a COVID-19 test before I enter the exercise itself, which is to say, like the rest of the world, COVID-19 has shaped and continues to shape everything we do here in US Army Europe.
DEFENDER-Europe 20 was originally designed as a deployment exercise to bring large amounts of US soldiers and equipment to Europe to build strategic readiness in support of our National Defense Strategy and NATO deterrence objectives. We had already begun this exercise when, in March, we decided to modify the exercise in conjunction with our allies and partners to ensure the safety of our forces and host-nation communities here in Europe.
Over 6,000 soldiers and 3,000 pieces of equipment arrived via air and sea to Europe, and an additional 9,000 pieces of equipment were drawn from Army prepositioned stocks here in Europe. Although we had plans for much larger formations of troops and equipment to arrive and then join our allies and partners for training on the ground here, we were able to exercise the systems and processes of mobilising and delivering credible combat power from the United States into Europe from port to port and across land to a potential point of crisis. While many of the linked exercises for DEFENDER-Europe 20 were cancelled in March, after careful planning between US Army Europe and the Polish Ministry of Defence, exercise ALLIED SPIRIT – originally scheduled for May – starts this weekend in Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland and will run through June 19th.
I’ll defer to General Sylvia to discuss specifics related to the exercise, but I do want to highlight the significant work that has gone into the planning and execution of these exercises and the resumption of larger training this summer here in Europe with our allies and partners.
These exercises still utilise many of the original DEFENDER–Europe 20 training objectives to enhance our combined readiness between US, allied, and partner nations, and importantly, they demonstrate that NATO allies and partners stand stronger together and that we’re able to operate and train in any environment. As commanders, we manage and mitigate risk. I don’t think anyone could have imagined when we started to cancel exercises earlier this year just how much this virus would impact the world, but we expect to operate in this environment for the foreseeable future. As military professionals, we have to balance keeping our force and community safe and healthy while maintaining operational readiness. As we progressed through spring and now into summer, we have done that here in Europe in close concert with our allies and host nations throughout Europe.
In Germany, for example, we’ve followed host-nation ordinances on size of gatherings, instituted strict social distancing, and maximised telework to the greatest extent possible. As conditions have improved, we’ve resumed our training but modified wherever possible to limit any potential spread of the virus. These are – there are just some jobs, though, in our military that you cannot telework, however. In order to train effectively and be able to work together with our allies and partners, you have to get out into the field and do it. We’re confident that we can do it safely and that’s what you’re going to see if you come out to Drawsko Pomorskie over the next few weeks, or if you follow along online with the training that we’re executing.
I do look forward to answering any questions that you may have, either here in this forum or over the next few weeks, and I’ll now hand it over to Brigadier General Sylvia for his comments. Thank you again.
Brigadier General Sylvia: Thank you, Chris. Good afternoon. I’m Brigadier General Brett Sylvia, the Commander of the 1st Cavalry Division Forward, and also the Deputy Commanding General for 1st Cavalry Division. On behalf of America’s First Team, let me say thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. I’d also like to say thank you to my colleagues, Brigadier General Norrie and Colonel Dynski, for being here. I’m talking to you today from the training area in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, and as stated, I’ll address the specifics of the training and what we’ve done to prepare for it.
As Brigadier General Norrie stated, this training is a scaled-down version of the original training event, which had been designed to be the culminating event for the DEFENDER-Europe 20 series. What was once 10,000 soldiers is now down to 6,000 US and Polish soldiers. We’re very thankful to the Polish armed forces for agreeing to open up this training area and for agreeing to participate with us. At the time of the decision, it was still a very uncertain time for many nations, which is making that all that more significant.
This is an important training event for numerous reasons. One of them is to demonstrate to our NATO allies and the world that we have the capability to train safely in this COVID environment. My colleague, Brigadier General Norrie, discussed how COVID-19 changed many things. We’ve gone to great lengths to ensure this training event is a safe one for all the soldiers participating and everyone in the local area. As a result, 100 percent of the soldiers and civilians participating or supporting this training have been tested and found to be COVID-free. At the same time, we’re putting in place protocols to monitor, periodically test, and if someone becomes sick, we have the ability to treat and trace. You can see that we’re committed to preserving the integrity of the training environment, even to the point where Brigadier General Norrie has to stay in his basement for 14 days before coming here.
So secondly, this training will demonstrate our ability to operate as part of a multinational, interoperable team, conducting one of the most complex manoeuvres that any army can attempt: an opposed river crossing, or what we call a ‘wet-gap crossing’. With our Polish allies side by side with us, we bring the best of our armies together to accomplish this mission. The capabilities of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, the capabilities of the Combat Aviation Brigade – both from 3rd Infantry Division – and then the capabilities of the Polish 12th Mechanised Brigade greatly complement one another. Some may have seen the demonstration of some of these capabilities yesterday when the Polish Minister of Defence visited.
The bottom line is that the Polish 12th Mechanised Division is a well-equipped, well-trained, and, most definitely, a well-led force. We are proud to work side by side with them as our peers during this exercise. We are truly stronger together.
I’m honoured to be able to serve as the higher headquarters for this exercise. That headquarters is new to Poland and this is a fantastic opportunity for us to grow in our interoperability skills. We’ve trained and prepared for this exercise and we are certainly all ready to begin.
So again, thank you all for being here. I’ll now turn it over to Colonel Dynski.
Colonel Dynski: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Colonel Dynski, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, General Command, from Warsaw East. I will provide to you the national flavour and national perspective to the exercise which was already very detailed and depicted by General Norrie and General Sylvia.
Following the deliberate planning between the US Army Europe and the Polish Ministry of National Defence, exercise DEFENDER 20 Plus already started. Yesterday the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Blaszczak, accompanied by the ambassador of the US, inaugurated the exercise at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, modified from the original design of the exercise to ensure the safety of soldiers, which is the crucial part of this, what we are speaking about. Due to the COVID pandemic restrictions, the US and Polish bilateral exercise will feature the Polish airborne operations and the division-size river crossing, which is linked with the purpose of the Polish armed forces.
DEFENDER-Europe 20 Plus will enhance the readiness and ability to respond decisively against any adversary in a multinational, multi-domain environment. It will contribute to increasing interoperability and train our troops and commands to plan and execute ground combat operations.
I would like to highlight that all the scenarios and the setup for the DEFENDER-Europe exercise is along to the national security strategy, which was already signed in May of this year by President Duda. In the strategy, it is emphasised that the importance of the strategic cooperation with the United States of America, particularly in the areas of security and defence. Poland is the host nation, providing troops and providing the HNS, host-nation support. We do our best to provide the real training environment for the exercise and providing the safety for all soldiers in this COVID pandemic, very hard conditions.
Thank you, and I’m ready to also answer any questions which may be dedicated to the host-nation country. Thank you.
JOINT-FORCES.com was invited to both listen in live and ask questions once the speakers had delivered the briefings. We had, for those unaware, closely followed DEF20 (DEFENDER-Europe 20) from the first ship carrying vehicles and equipment docking in Antwerp in early February through to the downsizing of the exercise in mid-March in direct response to the World Health Organization declaring the spread of the virus to be a pandemic. Originally it had been intended that British Army personnel operationally deployed to Poland would be involved in ALLIED SPIRIT 20 but it was unclear if this was still the case so we asked the following via the Moderator:-
Moderator: Our next question was submitted in advance. This is from Bob Morrison with Joint-Forces.com in the UK, and his question is: “In addition to Polish and US personnel, will any British Army troops from the NATO eFP Battle Group Poland serving operationally under the 2nd US Cavalry be participating in the later stages of the exercise? If so, what will their role be?”
Brigadier General Sylvia: So this is Brigadier General Sylvia again. There are no eFP forces that are participating in this training. There was an element in the former construct of the DEFENDER series where they did participate, so I can understand where the question may have come from. But under this construct of ALLIED SPIRIT here in Drawsko Pomorskie, that element is not participating as part of this training.