HOHENFELS, Germany -- For the first time, the newly formed NATO - Multinational Division North-East (MND-NE) is performing the high command (HICON) role during exercise Allied Spirit VIII at the 7th Army Training Command's Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC), Jan. 15-Feb. 5, 2018.

MND-NE, headquartered in Elblag, Poland, coordinates and supervises training and preparation activities of the four NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups. Now the division can add commanding a peer to near-peer exercise to its growing resume.

Allied Spirit is a U.S. Army Europe-directed multinational exercise series designed to develop and enhance NATO and key partner's interoperability and readiness.

Czech Republic Army Brig. Gen. Karel Rehka, deputy commander of MND-NE and commander of the exercise, relishes the opportunity to take on such a grand task, especially considering it has only been a little more than six months since MND-NE stood up as a unit.

"Our role is to provide division leadership to the rotational brigade so they can get the most realistic training as possible," said Rehka. "However, we too gain a lot of realistic training from this exercise. It's a really valuable lesson because of the great support and simulation JMRC provides, which would be really hard for us to get otherwise."

The decision to create the division came from the 2016 Warsaw Summit, aimed at strengthening solidarity among Allied countries, as well as NATO's collective defense and deterrence capability on the Eastern flank.

According to NATO, MND-NE is comprised of nearly 300 soldiers from 14 nations: Canada; Czech Republic; Estonia; Germany; Hungary; Latvia; Lithuania; Poland; Romania; Slovakia; Spain; Turkey; U.S., and the United Kingdom. From this, the division sent approximately 30 Soldiers for its role in Allied Spirit VIII, where it has taken commanding multinational interoperability to a new level.

"MND-NE provides a realistic division headquarters that the brigades can interact with," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rich Schildman, the HICON chief of staff during Allied Spirit VIII. "Our goal is to provide the brigades with the best leadership possible. In addition, we also get great training out of this. As a new division, this is our first opportunity to conduct this type of training."

Schildman is the operations center chief, assigned to the NATO unit, where he is doing his best to congeal the newly formed division.

"We have a very diverse multinational unit," added Schildman. "Here in HICON alone, there are six or seven nations represented, and I think we've done a great job of overcoming some of those differences in a relatively short period of time."

Participation in multinational exercises such as Allied Spirit VIII enhances the professional relationships and improves overall coordination with Allies and partner militaries during times of crisis.

Canadian Army Maj. Bryan Flemming also plays a pivotal role as the current operations planner of the new NATO division.

As the HICON for Allied Spirit VIII, MND-NE is supported by the 4th Infantry Division and the 12th Mechanized Brigade of the Polish forces, said Flemming. We take the products given by JMRC and exercise control ensuring NATO terminology is correct. Since we're on an American base, we tend to default to American terms. So, we change it to NATO and massage it a bit for the scenario, and to give it a more fluid context with operational units.

"This is our first exercise outside of our lines," added Flemming. "So it gives us a chance to refine ourselves, work on our standard operating procedures, but balancing that with ensuring we meet all of the training requirements for our training audience."

Flemming pointed out that one of the challenges they're facing is working with the American command and control system.

"NATO systems are similar, but some of our personnel aren't familiar with the American tools. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to familiarize ourselves with the system and now we feel very confident in our ability."

Allied Spirit VIII is unique in its ability to provide hands-on experience and testing of secure communications between NATO allies and partners.

"We need to train," added Rehka. "If we're going to fight, most likely we'll fight as an alliance, so training with multiple nations is ideal to prepare for that."