VARPALOTA TRAINING AREA, Hungary -- Soldiers from U.S. Army Europe's 12th Combat Aviation Brigade spent the past two weeks here, training alongside their multinational partners from two Dutch air assault battalions and Hungarian forces during exercise Saker Falcon. The exercise wrapped up April 17.
The multinational exercise involved roughly 200 Soldiers from USAREUR's 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, based at Katterbach Army Airfield, Germany, soldiers from the 12th and 13th Battalions of the 11th Netherlands Army Maneuver Brigade, and Hungarian forces.
The Royal Netherlands Army began planning Saker Falcon more than a year ago, initially constructing a Dutch-Hungarian exercise, said Maj. Eric Halstrom, executive officer for 3-158th. Dutch forces later requested12th CAB's participation to validate their execution of multinational mission command in contingency operations; to integrate allied logistical support and bolster interoperability; and to train NATO allies in U.S. rapid deployment and air assault operations.
"[The Dutch] approached us back in January to come out and provide aviation support to their combined training exercise as part of the European Battle Group, so we're out here to provide unified land operations and aviation support to that training exercise," Halstrom said.
In addition to the exercise goals of enhancing joint and combined interoperability with allied and partner nations, Saker Falcon aimed to prepare participants to operate in an integrated joint and multinational environment. To support that objective, representatives of Hungarian civil and governmental agencies took part in the training.
The exercise featured full-spectrum conflict training, with opposing forces played by the Hungarians supported by air defense assets from 12th CAB. Other training included air assault operations, mounted and dismounted operations, casualty and medical evacuation procedures, radio procedures, and sling load training with U.S. and Dutch aircraft.
The U.S. is a significant part of these exercises because they play a significant part of NATO operations, said Halstrom. The major said it is imperative that the U.S. trains with its NATO partners to sustain interoperability, to ensure we understand how they operate, and they know how the U.S. operates.
The major said American forces and their European partners are already well synchronized in their efforts, thanks to years of training together.
"As we have come to find out during this exercise, there are a lot of things that the Dutch do very similar to us," Halstrom said. "It?'s surprising how similar they are to us, but it?'s because of what we have done in the past with NATO, and … we are here to help strengthen the ties a bit more and help to keep the partnership together."
"It's a lot different working with the Dutch, but it's a good experience because you get to see a different culture and how they work with military units, and how they work in comparison to our unit," said Pfc. Timothy Natale of 3-158th's Headquarters and Headquarters Company. "They also help us experience what we need to work on to make our unit as a whole stronger and how we can work alongside other units to [get] what needs to be done accomplished."
While Saker Falcon 14 continued to build on a legacy of combined training and interoperability, it also reinforced USAREUR's strategic objective to increase the flexibility of NATO and partner nations in the region and prepare units for their roles in the NATO Response Force. The NRF is NATO's multinational force made up of land, air, and maritime components that remains ready to deploy rapidly when called on by the alliance in response to contingency needs.
"Any time that we deploy together to different regions of the world, it's critical that we understand common operating procedures and that we are able to integrate forces so we can accomplish common objectives," said 1st Lt. Steven Broker with 3-158th's operations section.
"It's one thing to be able to do things by yourself, but when you're able to come together as a team -- especially with something like a language barrier or a cultural barrier -- it gives you versatility in what you are able to do and the circumstances you are able to do it under," Natale said. "I think this really helps to bring the team together, and it really gives everyone a lot of versatility in what they are able to accomplish."