LIELVARDE, Latvia - Generals and ambassadors from NATO nations, troops and media gathered to watch U.S., Canadian and Italian paratroopers conduct a night-time joint forcible-entry exercise as part of Steadfast Javelin II late Sept. 5.
Steadfast Javelin II is a NATO exercise involving over 2,000 troops from 10 nations, and takes place across Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The exercise focuses on increasing interoperability and synchronizing complex operations between allied air and ground forces through airborne and air assault missions.
"By definition, if you are in an alliance you need to train as an alliance with all the members of the alliance, because if you don't do that you're not going to be interoperable, you're not going to be effective and you're not going to be able to deliver your mission," said British Lt. General Ed Davis, deputy commander of NATO's Allied Land Command. "Exercises such as Steadfast Javelin II are absolutely essential to the operational readiness of NATO and all the nation forces in it."
Earlier in the week, air and ground forces gathered at Ramstein Airbase in Germany to begin days of planning, rehearsals and the loading of equipment and paratroopers necessary to complete the mission.
"We don't know where we're going to go to next - what operation, what mission or what crisis is going to pop up around the world. We do know that we're not going to deploy there alone; we're going to deploy with our allies, and if we're going to deploy together then we've got to train together," said Maj. Gen. Walter Piatt, deputy commanding general of U.S. Army Europe, a native of Somerset, Pennsylvania. "We train very hard, because when we're needed, our nations aren't going to ask us if we're ready; they're going to expect it. We're ready."
Approximately 500 paratroopers dropped from U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft over Lielvarde Airbase, quickly consolidating and clearing the airfield of enemy air defense and forces. Once the allied ground-force commander, Col. Michael Foster, brigade commander of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade, declared the runway open, additional C-17 aircraft brought in Stryker armored vehicles from the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
Simultaneously in Lithuania, approximately 160 paratroopers from the allied force conducted a similar airborne operation, dropping paratroopers and heavy equipment such as 105mm Howitzer artillery to seize secondary objectives. Combined with air-assault raids taking place across Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, the exercise showcased a combined effort by NATO air and ground troops.
"Interoperability means … we can work together, that we understand each other, that we have the same procedures and tactics and we practice it together," said German Gen. Hans-Lothar Domroese, commander of NATO Joint Force Command Brunssum. "This exercise is so important to maintain the high standard of interoperability. Tonight, we have seen Soldiers from 10 nations working together, and the results were perfect. Tonight, it would not have been possible without those elements from Italy, Latvia, Germany, Poland and all the other nations to be successful. I'm convinced, as a NATO officer, together we can achieve great things; NATO is an alliance of 28 nations, and they guarantee the protection and integrity of the territory. Steadfast Javelin II shows we have the capability to train and exercise and also ensure the alliance is prepared to defend its territory and their people. That's a strong signal; you can rely on NATO."
That signal has been heard by the host nation.
"Such exercises are very important for us; it gives signal to our society that we are not alone," said Raimonds Vejonis, Latvian minister of defense. "We are together with our partners here."
Alongside strong signals to the citizens of NATO nations, Steadfast Javelin II has taught NATO militaries valuable lessons about each other.
"The alliance is very strong, as it has demonstrated this evening with this exercise," said Piatt. "These Soldiers have been up here, built relationships with Latvian forces … for months. We live here … to build these relationships, to build strong friendships, so when we have to deploy we're not meeting each other for the first time."
In addition to participating in Steadfast Javelin II, approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, are spread throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland for Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
Over the course of several days, paratroopers will use the airfield at Lielvarde to launch air-assault raids and offload equipment, demonstrating the capability of NATO troops to gain strategic access and rapidly build and project combat power.
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