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Fort Drum brigade commander talks logistical challenges of European deployment

Infantrymen from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade practice loading into a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from 10th Combat Aviation Brigade at Bezmer Air Base, Bulgaria, on July 21, 2017.

THOMAS SCAGGS/U.S. ARMY

By GORDON BLOCK | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: December 16, 2017

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — The commander of Fort Drum's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade said his brigade's soldiers had to think creatively to tackle the logistical challenges they faced when deployed in Europe.

"Europe can be tough operating environment, particularly in freedom of movement," said Col. Clair Gill. "Any one error can jeopardize a entire large operation."

Among those described by the colonel was when his soldiers drove a convoy 1,300 miles to take part in a training exercise in Bulgaria. Many of the nations on the route set specific hours for travel, and how they could cross borders.

"You get to the border with a broken down truck, and they say you can't tow it across the border," Col. Gill said.

At that point, the colonel said his soldiers had to put the truck on a wrecker, place it on a flatbed, drive it across the border on the flatbed, take it off, then continue towing the truck.

"That kind of creative problem solving, that kind of arduous exercise really built what I thought was future leaders that are entrusted with solving complex and sometimes simple problems," he said.

On the way back from the exercise, Col. Gill said one nation did not allow the convoy to come through, forcing them to find a new route.

"The folks that are permanently assigned to Europe, they call that Monday," Col. Gill said. "That's just another day in Army Europe, where you have to work through all the complexities of those things."

Col. Gill spoke about the lessons learned from European operations during a press conference Wednesday at the Pentagon. Also participating was Col. Michael J. Simmering, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team. The two commanders' brigades were deployed in Europe as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, working together to reassure allies around the region in the aftermath of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"It's clear that our allies are absolutely capable and committed to the defense of the alliance," Col. Simmering said.

For aviators, Col. Gill said that another challenge for his soldiers was in the type of navigation systems available for their Black Hawk helicopters. New equipment described as a "box into the aircraft" allowed the aviators to adjust to European use of satellite-based navigational based systems.

Statistics provided by the Fort Drum brigade stated soldiers participated in 1,200 missions with NATO allies, completed 10,571 hours of flight training and 78,741 hours of maintenance and convoyed 1 million miles across Europe. The mission also included the distribution of 503,791 gallons of fuel and the firing of 764,894 rounds of ammunition and 3,838 rockets.

The Fort Drum brigade had soldiers mostly in Germany, with others spread to Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. It was the brigade's first deployment to Europe.

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