By Sgt. 1st Class Whitney HughesApril 18, 2016
WIESBADEN, Germany -- "The reserve component is like oxygen for what we're trying to do," said U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. What U.S. Army Europe is trying to do is keep the foothold in Europe strong using the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard as they face a major drawdown that has spread active duty personnel "paper-thin."
"We've only got 30,000, we've got to make it look and feel like 300,000," said Hodges. In order to achieve this goal with the loss of thousands of active duty Soldiers in Europe, the Guard and Reserve plays a vital role in the defense of Europe. Without the reserve component, a term including both the National Guard and Army Reserve, the mission in the theater could not be met, said Hodges.
The reserve component Soldiers participate in multinational training exercises that range from construction projects to unified land operation exercises in countries throughout Europe as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve and the State Partnership Program. Atlantic Resolve began in 2014 as a demonstration of the continued U.S. commitment to stability is Europe in light of Russian intervention in Ukraine.
"We're delivering the absolute right training at the right time to deliver the right effects for the Ukrainian Armed Forces," said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard. He added that training with their counterparts is mutually beneficial for his Soldiers. "It's the absolute best training that we can have short of combat. They know the work that they're doing is hugely important to stop Russian aggression on the eastern flank of NATO."
The California National Guard and Ukraine are partnered through the National Guard's State Partnership Program. The over 20-year-old program now includes 70 partnerships between U.S. states and foreign militaries. Twenty-two of these countries are in the USAREUR area of responsibility.
The Illinois National Guard's 23-year relationship with Poland is another of these key partnerships that will be integral to USAREUR's mission.
"We have this immense connection, network and relationships with Poland. We can be a strong enabler because we have these relationships that span not only the military, but also their civilian leaders in their country," said Maj. Gen. Richard J. Hayes Jr., Adjutant General of the Illinois National Guard. This, and other relationships cultivated through the SPP, are integral in annual exercises like the upcoming Exercise Anakonda 2016 in June. The exercise is a Polish National exercise that will involve about 400 Illinois National Guard Soldiers, and more than 24 countries and 25,000 participants.
In addition to the number of personnel and the unique relationships they have cultivated, the reserve component Soldiers also bring unique capabilities to the table.
"I would have had zero engineers if not for Alabama -- exact same thing for Tennessee. I would have zero engineers doing anything there if not for the Guard doing five sequential Annual Training rotations," said Hodges after last year's Exercise Resolute Castle in Romania and Bulgaria.
This year the Alabama and Tennessee National Guard Engineers are partnered with Army Reservists and Active Army Engineers for the exercise that includes more than 1,500 participants. They will focus on improving shooting ranges in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Estonia.
"I believe that the U.S. Army has a lot to contribute to other countries, and that the Romanians have potential to help improve our military assets as much as we could theirs," Spc. William Hughes, a Technical Engineer with the 1305th Engineer Team of the Alabama National Guard. "By understanding one another and finding a common ground through training together in real-world missions, we are setting everyone involved up for success said Hughes. He is excited to participate Exercise Resolute Castle this year.
Beevers agreed that these multinational exercises are mutually beneficial.
"It's a win-win for everybody," said Beevers. "It makes good on General Hodges' promise of making 30,000 look like 300,000 and also on the Strong Europe concept. We are also able to deliver retention and great training value for our Soldiers."