Live-fire exercise near Estonia’s Russian border shows US commitment to Baltic security, officials say
By IMMANUEL JOHNSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 8, 2020
The U.S. Army’s only Europe-based field artillery brigade used multiple launch rocket systems in a multi-day live-fire exercise at a training ground in Estonia, just 70 miles from the border with Russia, riling Moscow but reassuring NATO allies in the Baltic region.
The exercise, called Rail Gunner Rush, brought “top U.S. technological weapons systems to Estonia” and sent “a clear message that the commitment of the U.S. to security in the Baltic states is unwavering,” Estonian Defense Minister Jueri Luik said in a statement.
It was the first time the 41st Field Artillery Brigade has conducted a live-fire exercise outside of Germany since the brigade was reactivated at Grafenwoehr, Germany, in November 2018.
Russia has called Rail Gunner Rush “provocative and extremely dangerous for regional stability.”
“A rhetorical question is - how would the Americans react in the event of such shooting by our military at the U.S. border?” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, which was posted on the Facebook page of Russia’s embassy in Washington, D.C.
But the drills were “not tied to any current events in the region,” but instead aimed to test the 41st FAB’s “deployment capabilities, readiness and interoperability with NATO allies,” U.S. Army Europe said in a statement released last week.
“Russia’s criticism of the exercise shows that our eastern neighbor is following the exercise very closely,” Luik said.
An open day for the media, which was supposed to take place Monday at the training site in Tapa, was canceled after one of the U.S. soldiers tested positive for the coronavirus, Estonian news website err.ee reported.
Around 70 members of the 41st FAB took part, alongside troops from the Estonian Defense Forces.
“What we are doing out here is to strengthen our partnership with our multinational allies,” said 1st Lt. Andrew Winters, a fire direction officer.
“Us being over here … is mainly to reassure our NATO allies the United States has their back,” he said.
In addition to the American and Estonian troops, forces from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Montenegro, Spain and the United Kingdom took part in the exercise. Those troops serve in battle groups in the three Baltic states and Poland, which were set up to enhance the alliance’s military presence on its eastern flank.
Stripes reporter Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this article.
U.S. soldiers, along with Estonian Defense Force troops and other NATO allies and partners watch as a rocket takes flight during a live-fire exercise in Tapa, Estonia Sept. 5, 2020. The exercise was the first live-fire drill outside Germany for the U.S. Army's 41st Field Artillery Brigade since they were reactivated in Nov. 2018.
RYAN BARNES/U.S. ARMY