US Army Reserves practice disaster response in Montenegro
November 3, 2016
Soldiers with the U.S. Army’s only Reserve unit based in Europe are wrapping up work with dozens of partner nations in Montenegro this week, honing their collective skills in response to a fictional natural disaster.
Springing to action to assist with an international humanitarian crisis is one of the real-life missions of the 7th Mission Support Command, an organization with about 1,000 full- and part-time soldiers based throughout Germany and in Vicenza, Italy.
The unit sent more than 30 soldiers to Montenegro, a tiny Balkan nation about to become NATO’s newest member despite maintaining strong historical ties with Russia.
The field exercise, called Crna Gora 2016, was held in and around Podgorica, the country’s capital and its largest city.
NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre organizes the large-scale disaster response training. The annual exercise was last held in Ukraine.
This year’s four-day drill involved about 680 personnel from 32 NATO member and partner countries, making it the largest-ever NATO exercise hosted by Montenegro, according to local news reports.
Russia, which has strongly denounced Montenegro’s pending NATO membership, is conducting joint exercises in neighboring Serbia this week, pairing up about 150 Russian paratroopers with an unspecified number of Serbian and Belarusian troops, The Associated Press reported Monday.
Officials in Montenegro last month accused Moscow of interfering in its national election in an attempt to stop the country from joining NATO and the European Union.
The divisive politics, however, didn’t derail an exercise months in the planning, one that gave Montenegro a chance to further build on its future membership in NATO, U.S. officials said.
“For Montenegro, I think they ... see this as an opportunity to show they’re a capable partner and soon to be capable ally,” said John Manza, the NATO deputy assistant secretary general for operations..
“We do expect in the next six months or during the next year, they’ll become full members,” said Manza, who attended the exercise, in an interview with American Forces Network.
The exercise, Manza added, is “all about building capacity amongst the partners and allies to get them used to working with each other, to gain confidence in each other and their capabilities, to bring the whole NATO team more closely together.”
The collective response was geared toward assisting Montenegro with major flooding, a realistic scenario given the country’s mountainous terrain. Bridges collapsed and there was concern of a potential chemical spill in the floods, among other scenarios.
The 7th MSC sent soldiers from its headquarters to help with mission command of the exercise, said Col. Tyra Harding, the exercise’s officer-in-charge for the 7th MSC.
The command also sent soldiers from its Medical Support Unit Europe and 773rd Civil Support Team to participate, Harding said in a telephone interview.
The exercise has provided 7th MSC soldiers with some unique training opportunities, Harding said. Members of the medical team, for example, joined Israeli search and rescue personnel during a nighttime water recovery. The Americans were also located next to the Israeli team at base camp, she said.
Working with other countries and “developing those relationships, really that is the most important thing,” she said.
The command’s medical team at the exercise, comprised of reservists from the States and Germany, treated a number of simulated casualties during the exercise, from hypothermia and broken bones to abdominal injuries and worse, Maj. Molly Schaefer, Medical Support Unit Europe chief of operations and medical support planner for the exercise, said by phone.
The training was valuable “to see how other nations handle patients and approach medical care,” she said, and “also for us to refine the way we work together to ... provide the best possible care to patients.”