GAZIANTEP, Turkey -- NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe visited Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe's 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command here, July 31.

Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove toured the 5-7th's Patriot missile site and spoke to Soldiers and the media about the importance of the NATO mission to augment Turkish air defenses and guard against a possible missile strike from neighboring Syria. The U.S. battery, the second to serve a yearlong rotation here, is taking part in the operation in concert with German and Dutch air defenders based respectively at Kahramanmaras and Adana.

The U.S. participation in the mission began in January 2013 following a Turkish government request for NATO assistance to protect Turkish citizens from potential ballistic missile threats from Syria.

Breedlove said the air defenders' duty here is an embodiment of the principle of collective defense outlined in Article 5 of the NATO Treaty and at the core of NATO's mission.

"Our mission in Europe really hasn't changed," said Breedlove. "Americans are part of the NATO alliance, and where NATO needs us, that will certainly be where we are employed."

"Turkey is one of our most important and strongest allies," the general added.

"Turkey is in a very strategic spot in our alliance, and think of what Turkey is facing right now. To the south is instability in Syria, instability in western Iraq; to the north is the instability in the Black Sea, Crimea and Ukraine; and so this is key land, and defending Turkey is a big part of our NATO duties."

Breedlove said the U.S. needs to take a hard look at its force structure in Europe. He noted that Since the Cold War the U.S. has reduced its forces in Europe by 80 percent, and cautioned that those forces should not be reduced further until the recent instability in the region is understood.

The general called the Patriot mission in Turkey a clear success and praised the Soldiers of the Kaiserslautern, Germany-based 5-7th for their vigilance, their support of their allies, and their demonstrated commitment to that core value of collective defense.

"If mission success for a missile defender is no missiles hit the ground, we have perfect success. I think the deterrent value of what these Soldiers have done here has meant safety to this big city you see in front of you," gesturing toward Gaziantep, a city of approximately 1.4 million people.

During his visit here the general spent time speaking with Soldiers and leaders of the 5-7th ADA about their mission and thanking them for their service here, less than 75 miles from conflict zones in Syria.

"It's nice to have our leadership come and see operations that happen at Gaziantep at a personal level," said Spc. Kayla Echman, a Patriot fire control enhanced operator/maintainer assigned to 5-7th.

"I think this is a great opportunity to showcase our Soldiers and the mission that we are doing out here for NATO protecting the country of Turkey," said Lt. Col. Lisa Bartel, commander of the 5-7th.

Bartel said her unit is operational and on duty 24 hours a day, helping to serve as a deterrent. Breedlove added that the Patriot Soldiers are also fulfilling the equally important mission of building relationships with our Turkish allies.

The general said the U.S. Soldiers are getting to know the citizens of Gaziantep and used a sporting match as an example of how American and Turkish forces here are mingling and forming bonds through friendly competition that enhance and support the mission.

"It is very important that we have this bonding of our cultures," said Breedlove.

He noted that in that competition the Americans won at basketball, while the Turkish Soldiers triumphed in a soccer match.


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