By Ch. (Capt.) Malcolm Rios (3rd ABCT, 4th ID)June 13, 2017
HOHENFELS TRAINING AREA, Germany - Armor crews from 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, delved into a new sort of fight that actually falls back on traditional combat techniques during multinational training as part of Combined Resolve VIII.
The "Iron Knights" Battalion participated in the U.S. Army Europe-directed exercise from June 2-12 at Hohenfels Training Area, Germany, in which more than 1,800 Soldiers from 3/4 ABCT transformed into a multinational brigade composed of additional fighting forces from Albania, Finland, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania and Ukraine.
The scenario teaches NATO allies and partners how to operate together while conducting offensive, defensive, and stability operations in a fight against a conventional force. Preserving the territorial integrity of NATO members is a key exercise goal and, as in the real world, there are also political objectives such as facilitating government legitimacy and handling civil instability such as internally displaced persons and shortages of basic supplies and utilities.
Consequently, the Iron Knights had to approach a first-world conflict in a comprehensive sense in a scenario unlike any other that the current generation of Soldier has seen while fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
Erik Doman is a U.S. State Department official who supports U.S. European Command by serving as a NATO political advisor role player during training rotations like this at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center. He played a critical role as a liaison for the 3/4 ABCT with role players serving as civil leaders and from humanitarian aid organizations.
"The State Department, USAID (United States Agency for International Development), UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and the Bavarian Red Cross all have an important role to play in ensuring victory while minimizing damage and disruption to the local population and returning our area of operation to a stable and resilient condition," Doman said.
While armor crews with 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., are accustomed to imposing their will on a battlefield with great lethality, a more delicate touch is needed when dealing with civilian-military matters.
1st Lt. Jake Hill, executive officer, Ares Company, 1st Bn., 66th Armor Regt., said the exercise also posed a new challenge for logistics and relying on enablers.
"We implemented an entirely new means by which to supply our units. We've never worked with it before. We're going back to traditional warfare rather than counter-insurgency," Hill said.
"We've gotten very good at operating off of those platforms - integration of fires for instance - and now we're going back to traditional platforms," he said.
It's a comprehensive approach that relies heavily on synchronization.
"Coordination must happen to get every unit the things they need: water, food, fuel and ammo. If that doesn't happen, we can't fight the battle. In the past, it's been more operational than logistical. This will be a logistical fight," Hill said.
Bringing further complexity into the fight, the Iron Knights partnered with allied and partner forces for the first time since deploying to Europe in January as part of the regionally allocated land force for Operation Atlantic Resolve. During the full-spectrum operations, the battalion assumed control of Romanian and Ukrainian mechanized infantry companies, while one of its own tank companies fell under a Hungarian battalion.
"It's the first time the Iron Knights have really worked with foreign countries; learning the way they operate and coordinating with them to have a successful mission," Hill said.
U.S. Soldiers have been pleasantly surprised by how quickly fighting forces from different nations were able to get on the same page.
"Establishing a common standard operating procedure among multiple organizations was a challenge at first, but the collective effects on the battlefield were impressive. There is the language barrier that prevents us from coordinating as well as we'd like to, but that's why we have Soldier liaisons embedded with our partners," said Hill.
Ground units faced a more advanced opposition force during Combined Resolve VIII that was of equal strength or had better capabilities in some areas, such as field artillery.
Capt. Curtis Ballard, battalion operations officer, said, "It's a unique fight because it stresses our systems differently due to the challenges presented by the terrain as well as the friction of working alongside multi-national partners.
"We have to rethink the way we maneuver as well as quickly learn the capabilities and limitations of our partners so we can leverage their strengths and put all of our subordinate units in the best position to achieve the desired effects on the enemy," he said.