Army to resume large-scale exercise in Europe, but with coronavirus precautions
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 13, 2020
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STUTTGART, Germany — Thousands of U.S. and Polish soldiers will participate in drills next month, marking the first time since the coronavirus crisis began that American troops will assemble for a large-scale exercise in Europe.
“All COVID-19 precautionary measures will be taken to ensure the health and protection of participating armed forces and the local population,” U.S. Army Europe said in a statement Wednesday.
Called Allied Spirit, the drill is connected to the scaled-down version of Defender Europe-20, a series of events that was intended to be among the largest Army training efforts on the Continent since the Cold War.
USAREUR said Allied Spirit, which was originally scheduled for May, will be held at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland from June 5 to June 19.
About 6,000 U.S. and Polish soldiers will take part in the exercise, which will involve a Polish airborne operation and a U.S.-Polish division-sized river crossing, USAREUR said.
Roughly 4,000 U.S. soldiers will come from the 1st Cavalry Division Headquarters (Forward), the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team and the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. Some 2,000 Polish soldiers will come from airborne, cavalry and mechanized units.
In March, the Pentagon ordered a halt to deployments for Defender-Europe 20 because of coronavirus concerns. Major parts of the exercise were eliminated, including an operation that involved paratroops dropping into the Republic of Georgia and the Baltics.
Defender, originally intended to include 20,000 U.S.-based troops, was designed to showcase the military’s ability to mobilize large numbers of forces for missions in Europe. Such capabilities have become a priority amid concerns about a more aggressive Russia.
The Army had already deployed 6,000 troops, including a division headquarters and an armored brigade combat team, when the decision was made to reduce the exercise. About 90% of the equipment also had already been loaded on ships or aircraft.
Many strategic objectives were met despite the cancellations, USAREUR said.
However, the Army is planning exercises over the next few months that will aim to achieve some of Defender’s previous goals, including drawing from Army pre-positioned weapons stocks around Europe.
Also, the 10th Army Air & Missile Defense Command and the 41st Field Artillery Brigade are expected to participate in exercises in the Baltic region, while the Italy-based 173rd Airborne Brigade is planning airborne operations in the Balkans and Black Sea regions.