GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- On the second leg of his recent trip, Acting Secretary of the Army Robert Speer visited Soldiers and allies participating in Saber Junction 17 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, and the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, May 6 and 7.

"It is remarkable to see how well they are working together," said Speer. He went on to add "... and you are building not only the ability to operate together but also the readiness of our units as well."

His first stop was viewing the combat training certification exercise for the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Saber Junction 17. The exercise tests troop operational and tactical decision-making skills to assess the formation's readiness to conduct unified land operations with nearly 4,500 participants from 13 NATO and European partner nations.

"We're working alongside British tankers, Polish and Italian Soldiers along with German locals staged in notional towns coming together to share intelligence and pass along high-value targets with extreme reliability," said Capt. Alex Rubilar, platoon leader, Kronos Troop, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. "You can't get better training than this."

These training exercises have been a critical part of the U.S. strategy in Europe to transition from allied assurance to deter Russian aggression.

"We operated much more independently as the U.S. Army during my time in Germany," said Speer, a 28-year veteran who has witnessed the Army transform in Europe. "Now we rely upon and must train with our allies to build total readiness across the force."

Soldiers face tests on every level from planning with our allies to maintaining equipment and operating in the often-unpredictable weather while confronted with a near-peer adversary. Austere conditions and stressful training environment can build camaraderie between Soldiers and our Allies.

For Spc. Brandon Casey, a machine gunner assigned to Iron Troop, 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, that camaraderie is easy to enhance by using simple phrases in the native tongue.

"Jak sie masz," Casey says to a Polish Soldier operating a radio near his firing position, a phrase that translates to "How's it going?"

Growing up in Chicago, Casey learned Polish from his family. He often offers the casual greeting to Polish Soldiers he encounters. Each exchange follows the same look of surprise by the receiving Polish Soldier, after hearing a U.S. Soldier speak Polish, followed by a smile and a momentary reprieve from the gauntlet of the exercise.


STRONG EUROPE CHALLENGE

Another example of how the Army is attempting to establish relationships with our allies is the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, taking place, May 7 to 12. This year's competitors feature Soldiers from six different nations: Austria, France, Germany, Poland, Ukraine and the United States.

Before the opening ceremony, Soldiers climbed onto each participating unit's tank to compare and contrast the tanks and familiarize themselves with the competition.

Acting Secretary Speer paid a visit to the contest where he mingled with the competitors, including U.S. Soldiers and our allies as he walked around from tank to tank. He engaged with the host army's participants by speaking to them in their native tongue.

"It is great to see our allies competing and working together to make for a stronger Europe," said Speer.

The second annual challenge training opportunity is an event hosted by U.S. Army Europe and the German Army. It brings platoons and their tanks to compete against each other in offensive and defensive operations as well as vehicle identification, battle damage assessment, and precision maneuvers.

Although competitions usually center around who will take home bragging rights, the SETC is meant to focus on unity and partnership across nations.

"This is a competition," said Sgt. Maj. David Glenn, 7th Army Training Command's operations senior noncommissioned officer. "But it's not really about the competition. It's really about training, partnership, esprit de corps, and interoperability."

Regardless of who wins this year's competition, the training will strengthen all participating platoons as well as provide team cohesion among allies and partners.

"Our promise to anyone who sends a team to participate is that the team you get back will be a better-trained platoon than the one you sent us," said Glenn.