Intricate military exercise in Poland aided by Colorado soldiers
The Gazette May 22, 2023
BEMOWO PISKIE, Poland (Tribune News Service) — When ground troops, artillery and aircraft gather to show off their firepower, as troops from five nations did in Poland last week, it's an intricately planned dance to ensure everyone arrives and no one gets hurt in the blasts.
Colorado soldiers in the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Carson and Colorado natives currently living in Germany as members of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment helped to pull off the exercise, called Griffin Shock, that brought together more than 3,000 soldiers and an international set of military weaponry, including Romanian Gepards, anti-aircraft tanks, U.S. Strykers and Howitzers and Croatian Panzers. Even career soldiers were seeing some vehicles and weapons for the first time, like an impromptu international military convention.
The soldiers converged for the exercise required by NATO in the northeastern Polish countryside that the average traveler from Warsaw reached by numerous narrow country lanes that passed through villages, farmland and woods.
About 2,000 U.S. soldiers with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment made the trip from southern Germany over about 700 miles over three days in 25 separate convoys. It's a trip that would normally take 12 hours by car.
Scheduling such a trip on a short time schedule presented challenges at the heart of the exercise, said Colorado Springs native Maj. Adam David, an operations officer with the regiment
"The whole point of this exercise was rapid — to demonstrate the capability to deploy rapidly and fight essentially on demand," said David, who made the trip in the back of a Stryker as a vehicle commander while also tracking a squadron spread across three of the 25 convoys.
He explained his experience as he stood in front of a line of 36-ton Dragoon Strykers, eight-wheeled armored vehicles. It was one of the many rows of military vehicles parked around an observation tower as they came and went from various training grounds. Extensive sets of tents were also set up in the same area for the 2nd Cavalry Division and NATO's Multinational Division Northeast, which was running the exercise.
On the way to the training ground one of the regiment's Strykers broke down. But, fortunately, each convoy travels with a recovery vehicle that can move the enormous trucks off commercial roads if they obstruct traffic, David said.
Once in Poland, U.S. troops used a tactical voice bridge to share radio traffic with soldiers from other countries. The exercise included troops from Croatia, Romania, the United Kingdom and Poland, in addition to the large contingent of U.S. soldiers.
To overcome language barriers, human translators are preferred, but in a pinch, David said, soldiers use Google Translate, a live free translation service, just like tourists.
Prepping for the impressive live-fire displays also takes extensive mapping that includes how the ammunition is expected to behave.
Each unit turned in a detailed plan of where it is shooting and what weapons it is using so software can model its effects, said Camden Milway, a sergeant 1st class with the 2nd Cavalry Division from Westminster.
"That allows us to make sure we can position people safely," he explained.
Some of the rounds mapped for the exercise included grenade launchers, 81 millimeter mortars, machine guns and Bradley rounds, among many others.
Detailed mapping and an understanding of how ammunition acts allows troops to prepare for combat situations and it builds confidence and trust among them, he said.
They can know: "I'm safe. And I'm not going to get shot by my own people," he explained. Milway described his work from a tent with rubberized flooring, full of folding tables where soldiers worked on laptops sheltered on some days from the cold rain that pooled in the muddy rutted roads.
In addition to the ground weapons, the exercise also featured Apache helicopters from the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Germany that buzzed over the training ground numerous times in the lead up to a highly coordinated display for high-profile visitors Friday. The Apaches’ base for refueling and landing was in an open field, close to a working farm.
Ensuring the aircraft and ground troops don't interfere with each other takes rigorous planning, which Colorado Springs native Sgt. 1st Class Steven Cromer worked on for the 2nd Cavalry Regiment as the regimental fire support officer.
He planned how artillery, mortars and close air support will come together relying in part on 3-D digital models to plan how munitions will travel to targets and the safe paths through the air helicopters will take. The models help Cromer determine not only safety but how to have the greatest effect with all the weapons.
"It's fun to put them all together, all the pieces of the puzzle," Cromer said.
The large number of weapons systems on display was representative of what a surge of more than 3,000 soldiers would bring to a fight, he said.
It is one of several major training efforts going on across Eastern Europe this spring, as the war in Ukraine stretches into its second year.
The ongoing training is definitely showing results among some Polish tank troops, said Sgt. 1st Class Marc Lloyd, with the 9th Cavalry, who participated in Griffin Shock and was also working with Polish troops on tactics before the exercise.
In one exercise, Lloyd said their strategy was "on point" with a recent lesson. During the exercise, his tank got caught by two BMPs, similar to Bradleys, who kept him from turning his turret and had him backing into the trees.
"I was pretty impressed. … They caught me between the tree line and I don't like getting caught."
He also found that spending time with the Polish, trying new foods, new weapons and making friends with the lady at the shop on post who sells snacks has helped make working there more meaningful.
"It gives you a sense of like, this is why I'm here. We would fight side-by-side if need be," he said.
The training and relationship building is happening as NATO is getting tested in ways it hasn't been since the end of the Cold War, said David.
"The (2nd Cavalry Regiment) in particular, which has many soldiers who are from Colorado, from Colorado Springs, is (at) the absolute cutting edge of U.S. Army- Europe's efforts to support the NATO alliance and to deter the aggression," he said.
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