More SC Guard troops head to Europe to help deter Russia
By JEFF WILKINSON | The State (Columbia, S.C.) | Published: April 13, 2017
COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tribune News Service) — With tensions rising between the United States and Russia, more S.C. National Guard members are heading for Europe to participate in Operation Atlantic Resolve, a series of NATO exercises intended to deter Russia from further aggression following its annexation of the Crimea in the Ukraine three years ago.
Forty members of the 122nd Engineer Battalion shipped out for Romania on Wednesday. They join 140 soldiers of the 742nd Support Maintenance Co., who arrived in Eastern Europe in March. And members of a third unit, the 151st Expeditionary Signal Battalion, will also deploy to Romania this summer.
The South Carolina troops are part of a growing role for the Army National Guard and Reserve in Europe, as well as ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, commander of all U.S. troops in Europe, told The State Wednesday in an exclusive interview.
“We had 300,000 troops (in Europe) back in the Cold War days….today we have 30,000,” he said in a video conference from U.S. Army Europe headquarters in Weisbaden, Germany. “The task we have is to make our 30,000 look and feel like it’s 300,000. The only way that’s going to happen is if I have great men and women from the National Guard to come over here, whether it’s for two weeks, six months or nine months.
The National Guard and Reserve troops do multiple jobs as part of the Army’s “Total Force” initiative, Hodge said, from air defense specialist to engineers to heavy weapons mechanics to military police.
“They are like the oxygen for out ability to deter” the Russians, he said.
The South Carolina soldier will do a number of jobs to support active duty troops:
- In August, the 125th Multi-Role Bridging Co. trained for three weeks in Romania building floating bridges across rivers for NATO tanks and other equipment.
“It was the first time a bridging unit had been there in quite some time,” said Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, the S.C. Adjutant General.
- The 122nd Engineers is a construction unit. They will be building military facilities and buildings.
- The 742nd Support will helping maintain the tanks of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division based in Fort Carson, Colo. Prior to the 3rd Armored BCT’s deployment, there had been no Army tanks in Europe.
“My last tanks left three years ago,” Hodges said. “For the first time since 1944, there were no U.S. Army tanks in Europe We thought Russia was going to be our partner. We were going to pivot to the Pacific. All those things. But Russia’s behavior changed that dynamic. So the Army is bringing armor here.”
- Ten-member groups of the 151st Signal will be rotating in and out of Eastern Europe to bolster communications commands.
- And the S.C. Guard’s well-respected 263rd Army Air Missile Command, based in Anderson, could be tapped for service, Hodges said.
“I don’t have any” air defense assets, Hodges said. “And South Carolina has been a leader in air defenses.”
Livingston noted that during the Vietnam War, National Guard troops weren’t integrated with active duty combat troops, contributing to the erosion in public support for the conflict. Having National Guard troops heavily involved in the nation’s defense overseas builds support for the military because entire communities are invested, he said.
“It brings them in to support what the nation is doing,” he said. “It’s a cumbersome process, but when that machine gets rolling forward you can’t stop it. Because the strength of the nation is the will of the people.”
©2017 The State (Columbia, S.C.)
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Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe at left, listens as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno speaks during a visit to Izmir, Turkey, on February 4, 2014. Speaking via video conferencing on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, Hodges noted that National Guard and Reserve troops "are like the oxygen for our ability to deter” the Russians, he said.