By Staff Sgt. Ange Desinor (3ABCT, 4ID)June 16, 2017
HOHENFELS, TRAINING AREA, Germany - After slogging through rainy days in the Bavarian countryside, the sun finally rises, casting rays of sunlight over painted faces and weary but determined eyes.
One Soldier has been awake far longer than others, checking on the status of his tank, which suffered a maintenance issue that hampered its mobility. Mobility is the key to survival in the fight vs. a conventional force that's brought these warriors to the field for Combined Resolve VIII, a U.S. Army Europe multinational exercise that's nothing but business during a nonstop nine-day battle.
The evening before, the Soldiers parked their M1A2 Abrams tank in a secluded area to hide from possible enemies. The Soldiers of 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, have become experts at blending in to their surroundings five months into their nine-month rotation under Operation Atlantic Resolve. They use the natural elements like brush and thick tree cover to become one with their environment, lions crouched under cover awaiting their prey.
What starts as a quiet day quickly turns to full alert. The hunt has begun, only for now the hunter has turned into the hunted, and the hairs on Sgt. Kevin Kilpatrick's neck stand up as he recognizes the threat approaching his tank crew.
"Everyone wake up!" shouts Kilpatrick, a tank commander for Ares Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment.
Hearts racing, Spc. Tanner Nigh, a gunner, and Spc. Isen Buntz, a loader, quickly jump into action. They leap into their immobilized tank and start slinging 120mm rounds toward the attacker probing for weak spots. Even a wounded lion fights with pride.
"They were attacking the brigade support area, and we ended up taking out at least 10 enemy vehicles and six to seven dismounts," said Kilpatrick. "We literally were a non-moving track sitting out there protecting the unit maintenance collection point, and they started attacking the BSA. We took them out."
This is just one example of the heated exchanges that occur between opposition forces playing the role of an equal or more powerful adversary against the 3/4 ABCT during the brigade's first foray as a multinational task force (Task Force Iron) in Europe. Here at Combined Resolve VIII, the brigade not only tested 1,800 of its own Iron Soldiers in defensive, offensive and stability operations, it united an additional 1,300 land and aviation fighters from seven nations to hone interoperability skills.
It was nine days of continuous fighting against an intentionally complex opponent. It's the Iron Brigade's largest stage thus far under Atlantic Resolve to showcase not only its lethality as a deterrent against aggression in eastern Europe but its ability to fight alongside allies and partners. In this case, U.S. armor and helicopter crews teamed up with soldiers from Albania, Finland, Hungary, Kosovo, Romania and Ukraine.
"We are very fortunate to be put in the middle of this type of fighting environment," said Col. Christopher R. Norrie, commander, Task Force Iron and 3/4 ABCT. "This is not just a training event, this is existentially about our survival if we're ever called upon to fight a conventional force."
At the heart of the fight are guys like Kilpatrick and his tank crew. They get their moment in the sun by taking down those 10 tanks in only a couple minutes of intense fighting. A herd of gazelles who ventured into the wrong lion's den.
Other crews will showcase the results of months of training with NATO allies and partners. One tank crew, for example, knocks out an opposition tank from 3 kilometers away - a feat unheard of in this densely forested terrain. Another engages in 30 hours straight of continual contact with the enemy, the thorn in the paw of an equally tough lion.
"This has been a tremendous fight for the last nine days - two great adversaries squaring off," said Norrie. "All else being equal, the team that wins is the team that learns and adapts faster."
Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukrainian, Hungarian and Romanian land forces lead the charge to liberate cities under siege by the invading force. The Iron Brigade's M109A6 Paladin crews sling nearly 5,500 artillery rounds down range, raining hell on the enemy or dropping smoke in front of allies to obscure their movement on the battlefield.
"Working with our counterparts from different countries was a great experience," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Gregory Funk, the brigade counter-fire officer from 3rd Battalion, 29th Field Artillery Regiment. "We had a Hungarian non-commissioned officer as a liaison who gave us dynamic targets, and we figured out how to put effects to them, whether it was lethal or non-lethal. We got past language barriers especially with military language."
Funk is recognized as a "hero of the battle" for developing new tactics and procedures to deceive and confuse the enemy on the battlefield. His actions allow the task force to be proactive before coming into direct contact with the enemy, resulting in less casualties and damaged equipment.
In total, more than 150 enemy tanks, 200 fighting vehicles, and 17 pieces of artillery - the equivalent of a division's worth of armored equipment - are destroyed by Task Force Iron. The brigade's tactical operations center and tactical command post jumps 12 times in nine days, exemplifying a heavy unit that's trained to be agile on its feet, the fighter constantly dancing around the ring.
The force-on-force aspect of Combined Resolve VIII is the final round of the two-month-long exercise designed to train U.S. Army Europe's Regionally Allocated Forces in a complex, multinational environment. Starting in April, five of the Iron Brigade's seven battalions and the brigade staff went through their own live-fire and command post exercises, leading up to this main event.
The Iron Brigade returns here for another bout in August and September, when the Combined Resolve IX rotation occurs.