Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the now-former commander of U.S. Army Europe.

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the now-former commander of U.S. Army Europe. (Joshua L. DeMotts/Stars and Stripes)

GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — After years of training Europe’s soldiers in on-the-ground tactics, U.S. Army Europe is focusing several echelons higher, training Europe’s senior leaders in the concepts of multinational command.

A course that began here Monday gathered senior officers from the U.S. and 15 armies across the Continent to delve into the complexities of combined land operations, or the fusion of multiple nations’ land forces under a single command.

The Combined Force Land Component Commander course, being taught for the first time outside the U.S., aims to build on the advances of Europe’s armed forces over a decade of U.S.-led wars in the Middle East, USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Mark P. Hertling said.

“We are now operating on the same level,” Hertling said. “The question is, in the future, can we be led and build together on the same level?”

The CFLCC concept stems from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when U.S. Army and Marine forces combined with several multinational land forces under a single U.S. command. The U.S. Army War College introduced its course the same year, although it was largely intended for senior U.S. officers across the services, according to G.K. Cunningham, a professor at the school.

Today, the Army War College holds the course three times a year, focusing on logistics, intelligence-sharing and working with air, naval and special operations combined forces.

USAREUR recently asked the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, to offer a similar course, tailored for Europe’s multinational forces, Hertling said. The command received a green light six months ago, he said.

Holding the course in Europe allows it to address specific concerns within the theater, Hertling said. Cunningham said the multinational focus makes sense, given the likelihood that future conflict will involve coalitions.

“I think many of the CFLCCs that will be formed will be formed not at a national level, they will be at a regional level,” he said.

For USAREUR, the conference is also an opportunity to highlight its relevance in a theater that is either losing, or at risk of losing, soldiers to train. Two Army combat brigades in Europe are scheduled to inactivate by summer 2013, taking thousands of U.S. soldiers. The approaching end of the war in Afghanistan, meanwhile, combined with shrinking defense budgets among Europe’s armies, also could mean fewer opportunities to train international soldiers.

Hertling said recently that USAREUR and its training arm, the Joint Multinational Training Command in Grafenwöhr, need to move beyond basic combat training and into more complex topics, including cyberwarfare, air defense and logistics.

Combined operations pose their own difficulties, many of them raised by participants on Monday: Language barriers; limits nations place on their armed forces in coalition settings and the difficulties of answering to both national commanders and commanders in a combined force.

Some of the countries attending this week’s conference are small and lack even a fraction of the resources of the U.S. Army. The Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — each with a representative at the conference — have slashed defense budgets considerably in recent years and rely on outside countries for air defense.

“Working with the U.S. Army can be extremely daunting,” Cunningham said. “The kind of issues the Army has to be responsible for and that they have to tie into is often of a scale they (smaller nations) have not imagined before.”

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