WASHINGTON -- Historians estimate that between 70 million and 85 million people were killed during World War II, making it the most destructive war in history. Europe -- from the Ural Mountains to the United Kingdom -- was a charnel house.

Since Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, American service members have been an integral part of the effort to guarantee peace on the European continent. Working with allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 72 years have passed without a major conflict on the continent -- one of the longest periods of peace in European history.

The stability that led to that peace, however, is now threatened by Russian aggression and by terrorism emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.

Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti represents U.S. military power on the continent as the commander of U.S. European Command, and also represents the alliance's resolve to maintain peace as NATO's supreme allied commander for Europe.

One of the general's fundamental tasks is ensuring that EUCOM and NATO work together effectively.

INTERNATIONAL PARTNERS

In this effort, Navy Fleet Master Chief Crispian D. Addington and Croatian Command Sgt. Maj. Davor Petek work together to help Gen. Scaparrotti achieve his aims. Addington is the senior enlisted leader based at EUCOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and Petek is the senior enlisted leader based at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium.

"We constantly work together," Addington said during an interview with both men.

The missions of NATO and EUCOM are not too different, Petek explained. Both organizations work to ensure there are trained and ready troops that can deter aggression, execute operations and defend both national and NATO interests.

Over the years, both EUCOM and NATO have shifted their priorities to focus on engagement, rather than just deterrence. This shift has allowed both organizations to effectively respond to shifting current events, especially those within the last several years.

The idea of a Europe "whole, free and at peace" seemed within reach a decade ago -- until Russia invaded two provinces, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in the Republic of Georgia in 2008. The aggression continued in 2014, when Russia illegally annexed the autonomous region of Crimea from Ukraine.

SHIFTING POSTURE

These Russian moves dictated a posture change for EUCOM and SHAPE. NATO deployed multinational units to the Baltic republics and to Poland, as well as aircraft patrols and naval units to those areas.

"The last time the United States had this many troops in Europe, I was sitting on the other side of the wall," Petek said. "Here today, I am sitting at one of the two strategic commands of NATO as the senior enlisted [leader]. The environment changed and NATO changed also."

The enhanced forward presence put forward by the alliance in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland is mostly comprised of troops from four framework nations -- the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States. Many other NATO nations attached troops and capabilities to these units.

"This is an opportunity to not only accomplish the mission of the [enhanced forward presence], but also to work on interoperability especially on the enlisted level," Petek said. "Even before they deployed those troops were talking to each other, learning about each other."

From a tactical perspective, enlisted troops need reliable communications, such as compatible radios, and knowledge of their partners' weapons systems capabilities. This current enhanced forward presence demonstrates the tactical integration of units. "These are things that are important to enlisted [troops] to know so we can operate together," Petek said of the importance of communication and integration with other units.

TRAINING

The deployment of the enhanced forward presence force not only sends a strong message to Russia, but also offers opportunities for the NATO brigades to train and learn from one another.

For example, the enhanced brigade presence allows noncommissioned officers to address differences in military cultures. In one instance, the U.S. battle group in Poland initially worked with international forces that did not have an empowered senior NCO -- not all militaries have a tradition of giving senior NCOs the responsibility to lead.

"Now they come to a U.S. group and there is a sergeant major there, and the expectation is if you go there, you better get a senior enlisted [service member] who can work with the U.S. unit," Petek explained.

These nations realize the need to have a senior enlisted leader standing next to the national commander, because the battlegroup commander has a senior NCO standing with him, Addington said.

NATO is not in the business of changing national systems, but there are expectations for NCOs when they arrive to take a job in a NATO unit or headquarters.

"We want the nations to understand that if you want to send your best and brightest to serve together with us to accomplish whatever task we have, this is what we expect them to be able to do, these are the qualifications we expect them to have, this is the education they should have, and the nations need to ensure their enlisted folks have those qualifications for these NATO jobs," Petek explained.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Both Addington and Petek reinforce their commander's intent wherever they go, Addington said, and their message is "95 percent the same. We want to make sure the troops are ready and able to do what they are expected to do."

There are multiple events throughout the year to engage senior NCOs in both EUCOM and SHAPE. "The international senior enlisted seminar is a major event we do every year," Addington explained. "The seminar brings roughly 40 senior enlisted leaders together to talk about current events and ways to build strategic partnerships."

Petek added, "There are many events that may be a EUCOM or a NATO event and we will both go with the boss, because we have U.S. senior leaders and NATO senior leaders and we are one team."

"There is no ego here," he continued. "It's all about working together to meet the boss's mission and intent. That's the bottom line."

Addington agreed. "The greatest benefit of having the sergeant major and myself there is I provide the U.S. perspective and he provides the international perspective -- that piece that I have not grown up with," he said. "We are able to get to what's right for the nation and what's right for NATO across the line."