Fifteen years ago, it would have been hard to imagine regular meetings between Russian and American military leaders to discuss joint operations.

A few years ago, such discussions wouldn’t have happened in Stuttgart, Germany. But last week’s working group meeting between 0-6 level officers from the two countries proves that times have changed.

“I think it’s safe to say that the level of trust and transparency has grown dramatically,” said Army Lt. Col. Rosemarie Warner, chief of the Russia Ukraine Eurasia branch for the plans and policy division at U.S. European Command.

Now, if only the airlines could manage to get the Russians’ luggage to Germany on time and in good shape.

“Not only did [the bags] arrive late, but everything was broken,” said Navy Cmdr. Denise Newell, who works the Russia desk for the division.

Luckily, Warner said, the Russians had some time to unwind before the meetings got under way later in the week. Because then it was time for serious business.

It’s a routine that’s pretty well established, despite the fact EUCOM has been charged with the meetings only since Russia became a part of the command’s responsibilities in 2002.

Representatives from the two countries gather twice yearly for long-range planning on opportunities for the two countries to work together. That would include officer exchange programs — not for prisoners as during the Cold War, but for postings in each other’s militaries — and exercises. One such exercise, Torgau 2004, was held outside of Moscow earlier in May and featured elements of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) and the 7th Army Training Command working with Russian counterparts.

Warner said each side takes a list of activities it would like to have its former adversary participate in during the next year. When ideas and timetables coincide, events are scheduled. Other times, other approval or research is needed. That's one reason for the two meetings each year. The next one is scheduled for September in Moscow.

Newell said there were a lot of similar proposals last week.

“We were able to color a lot of them green,” she said, meaning that they’re now on the calendar.

Col. Michael Anderson, the Europe division chief of plans and policy for EUCOM, hosted the gathering this year. Each side traditionally sends eight to 10 representatives.

Warner said it went pretty much like it always does, with the parties warming up to each other as the meetings progressed.

“Any time you have two groups of people who come from such different backgrounds … sometimes, something seems so simple, but it isn’t,” he said.

That’s partially because instantaneous interpretation is needed. Most of the Russians don’t speak much English. Most of the Americans don’t speak much Russian.

But Warner said the meetings appeared to end on a high note.

“They go away happy and we go away happy and look forward to the next time,” she said.

With plans to take as much carry-on luggage as possible, of course.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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