BEMOWO PISKIE, Poland -- On Nov. 9, NATO's joint training exercise Anakonda-18 (AN-18) kicked off with an opening ceremony, making it the seventh iteration of this key training event. The 10-day exercise involved over 17,500 Soldiers, including National Guard members, 10 countries, and spanned from Poland to Lithuania to the Baltic Sea.

The exercise operated as a certification venue with the intent of achieving goals set during the 2016 Warsaw NATO Summit.

Through the successful tactical planning and realistic training, AN-18 tested and confirmed NATO's ability to perform joint defensive operations on a large scale.

"Today we start Anakonda," said Polish Armed Forces Col. Norbert Iwanowski, commander of the 15th Mechanized Brigade, to the troops during the opening ceremony. "The largest periodic joint exercise organized by Poland with the international participation of allies, partners and headquarters from the NATO Command Structure and NATO Force Structure."

AN-18 used the full scope of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence, military capabilities.

Air defense, infantry, field artillery, tanks and forward observers operated cohesively, integrating all aspects of the battlefield. According to the AN-18 statement, implementing training concepts built on common efforts, shared resources, and collective capabilities ensures allied operational sustainment and combat inoperability.

Collaboration between allies thrived, giving Soldiers the unique experience and opportunity to work as one, multinational, cohesive team.

"During Anakonda, the other American snipers and myself were used as dismount and reconnaissance," said U.S. Army Sgt. Forrest Layton, an American sniper assigned to Battle Group Poland. "We were placed in strategic locations by the British command, and were utilized to deliver real-time battlefield information. Although we were dismounted with somewhat limited interaction with the Queen's Dragoons, we were able to work with them on one route recon movement. I really enjoyed seeing how they operated. Their leadership was extremely professional and kept us informed on their maneuver tactics throughout the exercise."

Although AN-18 is the seventh iteration, this year's exercise introduced new battlefield assets and. For the first time, this exercise was extended to include Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the joint operations. AN-18 climbed to new heights by introducing mechanized artillery to the battle picture. This marked the first time that Paladins have been fired this far eastward.

Officially ending on Dec. 6, AN-18 has given NATO and military leaders specific knowledge of joint force capabilities and assets. According to the NATO statement, the operation provided the unique and vital opportunity to train together, enhance capabilities, test and confirm readiness to conduct the joint defensive operation; on a large scale, common procedures, systems and tactics. Knowledge and skills gained from AN-18 will only enhance and propel the capabilities of NATO joint operations, paving the way for continued military enhancement, improvement and readiness.