SLUNJ, CROATIA - The theme of Exercise Immediate Response 15 is "Strength through Partnership." Soldiers from nine nations have gathered in Slovenia and Croatia to show NATO resolve to support regional security and stability in Southern Europe.

Well over 1,000 soldiers are taking part in the training. For each of them it's a chance to learn with their peers from other nations but also to take part in real world events with real world consequences.

"It's not just reading about it in a newspaper but being in a foxhole experiencing it," explained Lt. Col Ben Bennett, commander of the 54th Engineer Battalion of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Vicenza Italy.

The 18-year Army veteran and graduate of the Citadel said he is extremely proud of the way his soldiers approach these events and what they take from it.

"I cannot imagine a better classroom than what we are doing right here, our soldiers are doing real world missions with real world effects." he explained.

Bennett said that many of the lessons leaders learned in Afghanistan are still being practiced today, especially those involving junior officer and non-commissioned officers in important decisions made by his battalion.

He confidently said, "Never before in my career have I seen such amazing opportunities for our junior leaders to be so culturally engaged and make strategic impacts."

Bennett, who is not new to the NATO environment, said exercises like Immediate Response 15 afford the participating nations a chance to work through the communications and maneuver that are essential to battlefield success.

He added, "I want every country's training objectives to be met so all of those participating are getting all they can out of it."

Exercise Immediate Response 15 is being co-sponsored by NATO members Slovenia and Croatia. Bennett said what he wants these countries and his other partners to know about him and the United States is, "That we are committed to building interoperability and becoming the best collective fighting force we can be."