ROTTERDAM, Netherlands - U.S. Army paratroopers from the 54th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 173rd Airborne Brigade joined the Royal Netherlands Army's 41st Armored Engineer Battalion, and a platoon of combat engineers from the Belgium army's 11th Engineer Battalion to participate in an urban military engineering exercise here Oct. 17 through 23.

Independent Engineer 15 is a 15-day multinational tactical field training exercise designed to improve NATO interoperability with field training starting in Marnewaard training area in northern Zoutkamp, Netherlands, followed by a tactical convoy to the harbor town of Rotterdam in the southeast.

Upon arriving to Rotterdam, the NATO allies conducted company-level operations at assorted urban locations to include a cargo ship, tunnel systems, bridge crossings, and the Feijenoord soccer stadium.

"The ability to strengthen the alliance and our interoperability with our Dutch partners has given us assurance that the U.S. and Dutch armies have strong ties and can securely communicate in a dense urban environment," said U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Caesar Ruiz, a platoon sergeant with the 173rd. "We are already looking forward to future allied operations."

With challenging objectives in a complex environment, the combined forces had to take all of their lessons learned and newly-shared tactics, techniques and procedures from the first phase of the operation in order to secure essential infrastructure and guarantee freedom of movement during the second phase of the operation in downtown Rotterdam.

"This training provided the soldiers from the U.S., Belgium and the Netherlands the means to familiarize themselves with each other's capabilities and procedures, which is essential to be ready for combined operations," said Dutch army Capt. Xander Groenendijk, an operations officer for the 41st Armored Eng. Bn.

During the initial phase of the operation, allied forces refined multinational interoperability on company, platoon and squad-level tasks in urban operations, mounted operations, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense missions and reconnaissance.

"I want to integrate the exercise into the Dutch society to show our capacity and capabilities," Dutch Lt. Col. Bas Van Dan Berg said. "During the exercise, international units will be integrated within our companies and operate with those units as if they were our own."

The combined troops also had an opportunity to participate in a traditional Dutch wadlopen, or mud flat walk, marching 10 kilometers during low tide at the Wadden Sea. Dutch guides directed groups through sandbanks, miles of mire and chest-deep brown mud and water.

The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army Contingency Force in Europe providing ready forces anywhere in the U.S., European, Africa and Central Commands' areas of responsibility within 18 hours.