HOHENFELS TRAINING AREA, Germany - Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark T. Esper arrived at Hohenfels Training Area in Germany to visit Soldiers participating in Allied Spirit VIII.

Esper visited Soldiers from a variety of units participating in the exercise during his visit Jan. 30.

One of the Secretary of the Army's main objectives was to speak with U.S. and NATO troops of all ranks to better familiarize himself with military operations in Europe. Esper, a former U.S. Army infantry officer, served in Europe during his time in the Army.

"I like to get out and acquaint myself with the Army," said Esper. "I did serve a tour in Europe when I was on active duty, and it's good to see how much things have improved."
Maneuvering across the training exercise area, the Gulf War veteran spoke with a multitude of international and U.S. Soldiers and preached the importance of the allies' ability to work together to deter aggression in Europe.

"Interoperability is absolutely critical," said Esper. "Working together makes us the more effective of a fighting force, and it guarantees our success on the battlefield."

The 23rd Secretary of the Army reinforced the importance of the U.S. troop presence in Europe and the training in which they participate.

"Our presence (in Europe) is vitally important," Esper said, addressing a group of U.S. Soldiers at Allied Spirit VIII. "It fits two strategic areas. One is reassuring our allies and the second is deterring our potential adversaries. Our presence means that we will be there. We will support our allies if crisis erupts."

Allied Spirit VIII is a multinational exercise, with over 4,100 participants from 10 nations, designed to enhance interoperability among the participating militaries and improve the U.S. military's readiness.

"There's no doubt that we will deter any potential adversary," said Esper. "It's one thing to fight individual countries. It's another thing to fight individual countries that fight separately. It's a whole different ball game when you are looking at an alliance that not just works together, but fights well together."

Esper also used the visit to observe the quality of the Soldiers' proficiency and performance while training at Allied Spirit VIII.

"The Soldiers are doing a great job," said Esper. "I'm really impressed by their tactical proficiency, and I'm also impressed by the equipment I see them using."

Pfc. Cameron Bowman, a Rocky Mount, Virginia native and a heavy-wheeled vehicle operator with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said that Esper's visit reassured him on the importance of his mission.

"I think the Secretary of the Army's visit here boosts morale for all of us," said Bowman. "It's reminds us that what we do here matters."