By Sgt. 1st Class Amy Wieser Willson, 116th Public Affairs DetachmentApril 15, 2015
HOHENFELS, Germany -- For more than a decade, U.S. military forces trained to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. But now that those wars have ended, training has shifted to broaden the scope of skills among Soldiers, whether it's clearing a minefield or responding to a chemical attack.
At Saber Junction 15 -- a multinational interoperability exercise here at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center -- 4,700 service members from 17 countries are training side-by-side for the future and the uncertainties it holds. And the exercise reflects the shift in training focus among Soldiers.
The diversity of training exercises across the 163-square-kilometer training grounds in southeastern Germany provides refresher training for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. It also provides U.S. Soldiers the chance to train alongside NATO Allies and neighboring countries to promote interoperability.
"In order to be always ready as a regiment, that means we need to develop leaders," said Col. John V. Meyer, who is participating in the exercise. "We need to improve our readiness -- both our training readiness and our equipping readiness -- in order to meet any future operations. And by doing that we're strengthening the Alliance."
Meyer commands the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the largest U.S. force taking part in Saber Junction 15, a U.S. Army Europe-led exercise that aims to enhance the regiment's readiness. The exercise, which is the JMRC's largest this year, incorporates situational training exercises that give military members a chance to practice their skills under the watchful eyes of observer controller trainer teams, or OCTs. The training will eventually evolve into an eight-day force-on-force exercise that develops as a real-world scenario, merging both U.S. and multinational soldiers.
Participating countries include Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Sweden, and the U.S.
The multinational forces' role in the exercise enhances the training, especially for those who have never previously deployed and worked with other countries.
"Decisive action training environment like this allows you to sort of take a closer look at what those systems are, who the players are, and what roles they have," said 1st Lt. Sebastian Smoak, 1st Platoon leader, Alpha Troop, Regimental Engineering Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. "So for me, it's been a huge lesson, and I know that goes all the way down to the Soldier level for those of us who have not had the chance to learn in a multinational setting."
Like many of his Soldiers, Smoak did not serve in Iraq or Afghanistan. Others who have still see the benefits.
"To be honest, this is a blessing to have this opportunity to train with our Allied counterparts," said Staff Sgt. Marvin Blaise, Smoak's acting platoon sergeant.
It's a good chance, as well, to learn from fellow soldiers' experiences with serving with multinational forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I hope to train up my other two Soldiers who are brand new here. I hope to train them up so they can learn to do the same things that I did downrange," said Spc. Shawn Horton, a forward observer who returned from Afghanistan in March 2013. He serves with the Field Artillery Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment.
The force continues to transition alongside a changing world, but the focus remains on being ready for anything they may be called to do.
"The vision for the regiment in the future is to cultivate a culture of discipline, standards and accountability, which results in a regiment that's always ready, while caring for Soldiers and families. Saber Junction is our opportunity to move this vision forward," Meyer said. "This directly improves our readiness, which is the second part of our vision statement -- that we're always ready."
The international teamwork that comes from Saber Junction 15 will help ensure that.
"We're getting better every day and I know at the end of this we will be a stronger team because of it," Smoak said.