ZAGREB, Croatia — Exercise Immediate Response 13 brings 349 soldiers, from nine nations, to the Croatian Army Simulation Center. The goal of this US Army Europe (USAREUR) sponsored event is to sustain the military partner ships that exist in the Balkan Region and enhancing each nation’s ability to contribute to NATO missions in the years ahead.
Taking part in this two-week event are soldiers from the United States, United Kingdom and each of the Balkan nations, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and host Croatia.
"'We’re not learning new things as much as sustaining the lessons we have learned and can build on," said USAREUR Chief of Multinational Training Division, Col. Andrew Heppelmann.
Heppelmann is a veteran of several assignments in the Balkan Region. He indicated it is his desire for the Balkan nations taking part here to not look backward to the wars of the 1990s but to continue to look forward where the units can continue to grow a sense of teamwork.
“The Balkans has had history but in my mind, that history is a distant past and now we’re moving towards vibrant democracies and middle class and really being part of the European community,” said Heppelmann.
Immediate Response is part of a series of Regional exercises sponsored by USAREUR. It joins Saber Guardian in the Black Sea area and Saber Strike in the Baltic countries.
James Conley, USAREUR lead planner for Immediate Response 13, observed that each of the nations here have been partners in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and are now looking beyond ISAF and to increase their respective abilities to contribute to possible NATO missions in the future.
“We cannot quantify or measure the value of these exercises,” Conley said. He added more and more the nations are paying their own way for the training they receive.
Among the 130 Americans taking part in Immediate Response are 31 Observer/Coaches from the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), Hohenfels, Germany, a partner with nations throughout the year both at Hohenfels and locations like Zagreb. They, more than most U.S. soldiers in Europe, have a strong rapport and understanding of their partner’s procedures and abilities.
Capt. Andrew Boyd, from JMRC, described working with the many nations as “professionally rewarding.”
Boyd added that the cooperation level is good but it can always get better. “These exercises increase confidence levels, in the partner nations, so they can take on greater roles in future NATO missions.”
That is a common thread, when speaking to all the nations taking part in Immediate Response. The ISAF mission in Afghanistan has proved that NATO can build coalitions successfully and that it’s only in Europe that large numbers of nations can come together and fight together.
Many of the soldiers taking part in this exercise will train at JMRC in November. It is at JMRC where the staff skills practiced in Zagreb can be put to the test in an actual field problem.
Heppelmann explained, “Training in Hohenfels is great, it is the crown jewel of US Army Europe, it’s the finest training center in the world to train with coalitions.”
That sentiment was echoed by many of the coalition leaders training here. Each indicated that training with USAREUR soldiers in Germany is one of the highlights and most important times of their year. As one Slovenian officer explained, Hohenfels Training Area is bigger and better equipped than any training area in his country.