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Poland-bound US tanks roll east in military signal to Russia

Two soldiers walk past armored vehicles at the port of Bremerhaven, Germany, on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, out of Fort Carson, Col., is headed to Poland for a nine-month rotation as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 8, 2017

BREMERHAVEN, Germany — U.S. soldiers offloaded scores of combat vehicles from ship to shore Sunday at the massive port here, pressing forward with one of the largest U.S. force movements in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Some 2,500 pieces of gear belonging to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, including Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, are bound for NATO’s eastern flank, making a 6,000-mile journey from Fort Carson, Col.

“Let me be very clear. This is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure territorial integrity of our allies and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous and at peace,” said Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, deputy commander of U.S. European Command, in remarks to reporters in Bremerhaven.

Ray, flanked by senior military leaders and standing before the Army’s signature M1A1 tank, described EUCOM as a headquarters “in transition,” as it pivots from a post- Cold War posture that was focused more on partnerships and relationship-building. “We had time to bring our forces to readiness and respond to a crisis,” Ray said. “That may not be the case today.”

From a more assertive Russia to unrest on NATO’s southern doorstep in Syria and terrorism threats in Europe, the Continent’s “strategic environment is changing rapidly,” he said.

The movement of armor equipment and the 3,500 troops who serve in the 3rd Brigade out of Colorado, serves as the signature effort of the military’s push to enhance its presence in Europe, a continent where for 20 years the U.S. force was in a state of decline.

The arrival of the Fort Carson soldiers is the beginning of what is intended to be a continual, year-round presence of an armored brigade in Europe, with units conducting back-to-back nine-month rotations.

The campaign has tested the Army’s logisticians, who must coordinate the movement of forces and firepower by sea, land and air. Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, head of the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, said his team is already drawing up lessons learned to ensure quicker rotations of future units.

“We are able to exercise all that it takes (to do this), working with our allies to ensure freedom of movement and speed of assembly,” added U.S. Army Europe’s deputy commander Maj. Gen. Timothy McGuire.

The equipment is already on the move, with vehicles moving by rail, commercial lines and military convoy to training sites near the Polish towns of Drawsko Pomorskie and Zagan.

Once established, the brigade’s soldiers will be spreading out across Europe, with forces mostly concentrated along NATO’s eastern flank.

The brigade headquarters will be operating out of Poland, while its subordinate units will be positioned in the Baltics, Romania and Bulgaria. One regiment will be located at the Army’s post at Grafenwoehr, Germany, to conduct training and maintenance.

The moves, which are part of the military’s overarching Operation Atlantic Resolve campaign aimed at reassuring nervous allies and sending a deterrent signal to Russia, also has ratcheted up tensions between the U.S. and Moscow.

During the past year, Moscow has repeatedly denounced the measures, calling them a provocation that demand countermeasures. Ray described EUCOM’s efforts as defensive in nature.

“It is clearly a response to overt Russian aggression,” Ray said.

The full-time presence of a heavy brigade is one of many recent moves by the Army in Europe.

In addition to the hardware of the 3rd BCT, USAREUR recently added additional tanks and artillery to its arsenal on the Continent.

In September, the Army began moving tanks and heavy combat gear into storage sites in Europe, serving as prepositioned stocks available for a crisis and eventually capable of supporting an armored division-sized force. The stocks are positioned at sites in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and potentially Poland.

In February, the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Combat Aviation Brigade will rotate to Europe, accompanied by 10 Chinooks, 50 Blackhawks and 1,800 troops. An aviation battalion from Ft. Bliss will be attached to the 10th CAB task force with 400 personnel and 24 Apaches. The aircraft will support operations in the Baltics, Poland and Romania.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Squadron from the Vilseck-Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment also will deploy to Poland in April to serve as the U.S. component of NATO’s new enhanced presence there and in the Baltics. Additional NATO battalions will be set up by allies in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

For the 3rd Brigade, the run up to its Europe mission has involved a year of intensive preparation, ranging from large-scale combat drills at the Army’s National Training Center in California’s Mohave desert to charting out the logistics of a massive movement of force to eastern Europe.

That left little time for paint jobs. The unit’s fighting vehicles are desert tan rather than the traditional forest green paint that colors much of the equipment stationed in Europe.

“This unit was recently focused on the Middle East,” McGuire said. “We have not had time to paint them.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

An M1A1 Abrams tank rolls through the port of Bremerhaven, Germany, after being unloaded from a ship, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017. The 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, out of Fort Carson, Col., is headed for Poland for a nine-month rotation as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes

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