News: Guard units take on multiple roles in exercises, real-world missions in Europe
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
ARLINGTON, Va. - In the days after the June 6, 1944, D-Day landings, the Soldiers of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard’s 28th Infantry Division landed at Normandy, pushed on through northern France and took part in the liberation of Paris before driving on to Germany and the end of hostilities in Europe during World War II. Earlier this year, 70 years after D-Day and the liberation of Paris, more than 300 Soldiers of the 28th Infantry Division returned to France to take part in Exercise Rochambeau, one of many exercises, training events and real-world missions in Europe that Army National Guard units having been taking part in.
“The footprint here in Europe is smaller, funding has decreased but the requirements are remaining the same or in some cases even increasing,” said Army Lt. Col. George Mason, chief of the Mobilization and Reserve Affairs division of U.S. Army Europe. “We are going to see more combat arms from the Army Guard and more (combat service support) from the Army Reserve playing here in Europe.”
Those Army Guard units have filled a variety of roles in training exercises and have been there simply as participants in the exercise, in the role of the opposing force or as observer-controllers overseeing and evaluating those units taking part in those exercises, said Mason, adding that much of that increased participation has come through the Army Guard’s Opportunity Growth Engagement Funding, a program designed to, among other things, maintain and sustain an operational reserve force.
“What we’re saying by committing funding to those types of things is that we are willing to be full partners and cost share in theater in order to make sure our Soldiers are getting the best training opportunities possible,” he said. “The Guard participation in those (exercises) has actually increased due to this fund. This OGAF fund is making a huge difference.”
The exercises Army Guard units have been taking part in involve rotations at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, but also multinational exercises in France, Latvia, Lithuania and other partner nations.
In some cases, Guard units have been specifically requested by the host country as a result of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, which pairs up Guard units with partner nations worldwide.
“Sometimes the actual country will ask the SPP partner to participate in other-than-SPP sponsored events,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Sean Metaxas, senior enlisted adviser with USAREUR’s Mobilization and Reserve Affairs division. “It’s sort of an outgrowth and that strengthens unity with the state partnership itself, but it also provides a low-cost way to strengthen those ties and fit or nest into USAEUR’s overarching theater cooperation security strategy.”
And because of those already established relationships through the SPP, exercise planners often look at those ties first when sourcing units to fill exercise requirements, said Metaxes, adding that for an upcoming exercise that involved Latvia, the Michigan Army National Guard, which is partnered with that country, was looked at first.
“We gave (the Michigan National Guard) the right of first refusal because we knew there would be some play in Latvia,” he said. “We wanted to ensure that, when the Michigan National Guard did sign up, we did place them in Latvia.”
That leveraging of existing relationships through the SPP has become commonplace.
“Now, it’s almost (standing operating procedure) that if there is a regional exercise or an exercise in Hohenfels that involves a partner nation, the (observer-controllers) are going to come from the Army National Guard,” said Mason. "People go, ‘Oh, that’s just normal.’ That’s the new normal.”
That new normal extends to all aspects of exercise participation and involvement, said Mason.
“We’re moving beyond the observer-controller aspect, now that we have that entrenched, and take the State Partnership Program and do some small, micro-exercises and some other army to army exercises,” he said. “We’re going to do one with a mortar platoon live fire in Moldova and we’re going to ask the North Carolina Army National Guard (who is partnered with Moldova) to support that. Once again, not an SPP event, but an Army to army exercise through USAREUR.”
There are plans to use other Guard-specific programs and units to build further relationships as well, said Mason, noting the success of the Agri-business Development Teams, units made up of Army and Air National Guard members that have civilian agricultural backgrounds, in strengthening the agricultural base in Afghanistan.
“We’re currently planning based on (the chief of the National Guard Bureau’s) guidance to the field, which was that we’d like to see some sort of sustainment of the Agri-business Development Team capability,” said Mason. “We’re working on Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to try and hold an Army to army ADT exercise. If it allows engagement in countries that maybe are not getting a lot of focus, than that’s an additional benefit.”
Guard units have also been taking part in several real-world, short notice missions in Europe as well. That began a few years ago with a need for additional explosive ordnance disposal personnel by USAREUR and U.S. European Command, said Metaxes.
“There was a need, because of a re-integration and an on-ramp, that USAEUR was out of EOD personnel to support a EUCOM backstop mission,” said Metaxes. “They came to us and asked if we could support it. What we did, in an out-of-cycle kind of way, was within 90 days we had Guard EOD teams on the ground supporting USAEUR and EUCOM.”
A similar model was used to support air base operations in Romania that supported U.S. military flights to and from Afghanistan and other locations.
“In order for us to go (operational) we needed some firefighters and some facility engineers,” said Metaxes. “Again, using the EOD model that we had used (previously), they asked for Guard firefighters and a facility engineer detachment mission. We were able to do that in about 60 days and we got four states to cover down on that mission.”
Other missions have been met as well.
“We also had an engineer survey and design team first go to Romania and then Bulgaria and do some work for us at Novo Selo Training Area in Bulgaria,” said Metaxes. “So the long and short of it is it’s sort of become the new norm that USAEUR will see an emerging requirement outside of the two year (exercise planning) cycle, and the Guard and reserve component have been pretty nimble operationally filling those capability gaps.”
That nimble ability to fill those gaps comes from more than a decade of deployments and other operational missions for Guard units, said Mason.
“They are used to operating on rapid timelines,” he said. “They are used to being agile and the states are as well, based on what we’ve done in the last 12 years. I think everyone wants to keep that capability. What’s going on over here is enabling us to keep that edge and that ability to react quickly to operational missions and respond when a demand signal is given.”
And that ability to fill those mission sets — sometimes in as short as a little more than a month — also comes from the direct relationship of the Guard and reserve with USAREUR.
“Part of that is how we are organized here in USAEUR,” said Mason, adding that the Mobilization and Reserve Affairs division falls directly under the USAEUR operations section. “What that means is that all the divisions and points where requirements originate from are our peer divisions. So, we hear about requirements almost instantaneously from the time of development and when we work up a plan, sometimes that is hours and typically no more than a few days from origin of requirement.”
And that ties into the larger mission of providing for a capable and ready force.
“What it proves is that when needed, we’re operationally nimble enough and flexible enough to come over here and execute a mission with ready and trained Soldiers,” said Metaxes.