GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — More than 4,000 troops from across Europe and hundreds of tons of equipment have arrived at the training facilities here, getting ready to take part in the multinational Combined Resolve II exercise that begins Thursday.
Two years in planning, the timing of the exercise is coincidence, but allows allies to demonstrate some muscle at a time when Europeans — and those in eastern Europe particularly — are nervous about Russia’s newly aggressive stance following its annexation of the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
“Our Baltic partners demonstrate quite a bit of concern about that potential issue,” said Lt. Col. Carter Price, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas. “I think this is a way of doubling down on our ability to exercise this fleet and get out and do multinational exercises in a quick manner that can react to whatever is necessary.”
This training mission, like the first Combined Resolve last year, focuses on extensive live-fire maneuvers, basic interoperability training and the presentation of a show of force. It involves participants from 13 countries, including Romania and Bulgaria, which both lie on the Black Sea where Russia maintains one of its four naval fleets. Also participating is Georgia, a non-NATO member on the Black Sea bordering Russia, which invaded that country six years ago, and Baltic nation Lithuania.
Combined Resolve II has some components that make it unique, Price said. As part of the 60-day rotation, roughly 1,000 soldiers from the Fort Hood battalion have arrived to take key leadership and training roles.
This will also be the first time forces use the European Activity Set — a fleet of heavy vehicles and equipment, including 29 M1A2 SEPv2 Abrams tanks and 33 M2A3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. The tanks were delivered to the Grafenwöhr training facilities in January, just nine months after the last tank left Europe.
Both the large troop movement and the use of a turnkey fleet is fairly unusual, Price said.
“A CONUS-based unit coming into Germany and drawing an EAS is a first ... this is pretty significant,” he said. “This is pretty much the way it used to be, because it is the most economical way to do it. The cost of deploying your own fleet has to be enormous.”
Price added that the fleet is one of the best equipped he’s seen in his 18 years of working with tanks.
While Combined Resolve II begins in earnest later this week, the final troop movements and planning have already started. Last week, the heavier pieces of equipment were loaded onto rails and transported the 40 miles from Grafenwöhr to Hohenfels, while convoys of smaller equipment continue to traverse the autobahn.