4th SFAB ACOET Media Roundtable

By U.S. Army Public AffairsSeptember 23, 2022

Jason Waggoner: Okay everybody, I’m showing it’s 10 o’clock right now, so I think we’ll get started. So, this is Jason Waggoner with Army Public Affairs and welcome to the 4th Security Forces Assistant Brigade Media Roundtable. Today’s panel members are Colonel Robert Born, 4th SFAB Commander; Command Sergeant Major Travis Thompson, the 4th SFAB Command Sergeant Major; Lieutenant Colonel Edward Gibbons, the Brigade Operations Officer; First Sergeant Michael Schultz; MICO First Sergeant; and Staff Sergeant Diana McMann, the first battalion senior medic. You all should’ve received a copy of the panel member bios along with the unit information sheet. If you didn’t get them, please let me know after this and I’ll get those to you as soon as possible. Colonel Born will provide some brief opening remarks and we’ll get into your questions. First here are today’s round rules: All comments today will be treated as on the record. Please identify yourself and your news organization prior to asking a question. Only one question and follow-up per person this will allow time for others to ask questions. If you have more questions than time allows, please email those to me for follow-up. Please ensure your phones are muted unless you’re asking a question. And please understand with current world events, there may be some questions the panel may not be able to answer. If that is the case, they will tell you that and we respectfully ask that we move on to a different question. And, finally, we have 30 minutes for this engagement. We may not be able to get to all of your questions based upon the number of respondents that we had. If we run out of time and you’re not called on, please email your questions to me and I’ll provide responses to you as soon as possible, and with that, I’m going to turn it over to Colonel Born for his opening comments.

Colonel Robert Born: Thank you very much. Good morning, this is Colonel Rob Born and my 4th SFAB Team and I are excited to have a discussion today about how 4th SFAB is assuring allies and deterring aggression on NATO’s Eastern Flank from the Baltic to the Black Sea and with that we can go ahead and get started.

JW: All right, thank you sir. First up is going to be Lita Baldor and then I’m going to go to Caitlin Kenny and then Michael Gordon. So, go ahead and get us started Lita.

Lita Baldor: Hi, good morning, Colonel. I was wondering if you could give us the sense right now to how many of the SFAB members you have, how many teams you have in country and just give us a flavor of what some of the challenges have been, as far as some of the training. Where you’ve been doing it, that kind of thing. Thank you.

CRB: Lita thank you very much. So, right now we have 19 teams that are dispersed in 10 different countries. So, the countries that we currently have presence in, we have presence in Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Albania and Georgia and we have done episodic visits to – to Finland, as well as training that’s going on in Germany and in subject matter expertise really throughout the theater based off of, you know, different specialties, intelligence, logistics, etcetera but, but where we are persistently present are the 10 countries that I outlined. Again, starting from the Baltics and going all the way down to the Black Sea. As far as our operational approach, we are focused on building interoperability amongst NATO allies and then we are also focused on building capability and capacity amongst the forces that we’re partnered with and then the third component of our value proposition to the US Army Europe Commander in UCOM is that through our persistent presence we are able to develop shared understanding and that shared understanding enables trust amongst allies. It also allows us to identify changing conditions and emerging opportunities and because we’re persistently present, we can demonstrate the agility to respond to those opportunities and be at the right place and the right time.

JW: Okay, thank you for that sir. Lita did you have a follow-up?

LB: No, that’s okay, I’ll let others ask questions. Thank you.

JW: Okay, thank you. Next, we’ll go to Caitlin, then Michael and then to Ashley Roque. Go ahead Caitlin.

Caitlin Kenny: Hi, Caitlin from Defense One. My question, can you talk a little bit more about the training. I mean, I don’t really understand, you know, interoperability. Like are you talking about like weapon system, communication, you know, infantry tactics and do any of those people, any of the people that you trained with also include Ukrainians. Thanks.

CRB: Um, so, so Caitlin, thank you for the question and really it includes all of those things that you just described and so we break down interoperability into 3 components. There’s the technical aspects of interoperability, so communication systems is a great example, and then the second component of interoperability is procedural interoperability. So, how we execute our orders process, how we conduct rehearsals, how we standardize reporting from units that are, that are in contact would be another example and then the last component of interoperability is the personal aspect and the human component of interoperability in which we develop trust and mutual respect based off a shared set of objectives and then, you know, going through challenging missions and training events together like the Joint Multinational Readiness Center. And so we are, we are doing that through several different ways. I think the primary means that we use to increase interoperability with our allies is the robust exercise framework that exist in Europe. So, the defender series of exercises, Defender Europe and the exercises that fall underneath that umbrella whether it be, Saber Guardian, which is a predominantly infantry maneuver-oriented exercise, dynamic front, which is a field artillery exercise, swift response which is our airborne forces. So, we use that exercise construct to focus on how are we exercising communication so that Commanders can effectively command and control a multinational task force. How are we ensuring that everyone is procedurally in-line with the task force standards, which are informed by NATO standards, and we always refer back to the NATO standards to inform how we are developing interoperability and then, you know, again I go back to the trust that is built through our persistent presence in theater. I’ll pause right there for the interoperability question before I address the Ukraine to see if you have any follow-ups on that.

CK: No, just I, again, my follow-up is just did you train any Ukrainians and do you plan to train any Ukrainians, um, into next year. Thanks.

CRB: Okay, so you know the US material in training to support the Ukraine has been critical to their ability to withstand Russian aggression and we have 4th SFAB’s advisors have supported training to Ukrainian armed forces outside of Ukraine and the plan now is to continue that until we are given instructions to change mission.

JW: Okay, thank you for that sir. I’m going to move on. Next is going to be Michael and then Ashley and then I’ll go to Haley Britzky. So, go ahead Michael.

Michael Gordon: Thank you. Michael Gordon, Wallstreet Journal. I’d like to follow-up on the preceding point. The 4 SFABs that have supported training to Ukraine outside of Ukraine, could you please provide a little more detail on the nature of that training, when it began and whether you anticipate that it might increase and then I have a follow-up.

CRB: Hey Michael, we started the training in May and I’m just going to, I’m going to leave it there and not elaborate further on the details of the training that we’re doing with the Ukrainians, but – but, but what I would – yeah, what I will tell you is, you know some of the – the training that I think is critical that we are doing for example is the HIMARS training that we’re conducting with the 8th Missile Brigade in Romania and so our field artillery advisors have been with the 8th Missile Brigade in Romania since they received their, their HIMARS as part of Foreign Military Sales Program with the United States and we started that in the first of October of 21 and we have been with them through the individual training, through the collective training and they were going to certified – certify as a HIMARS brigade during the next defender exercise, which is going to occur in the spring of 2023.

MG: Understand. You’re talking about the Romanians, they’re not the Ukrainians.

CRB: That is correct.

MG: But the – but the – and my – my last question is the 19 teams in 10 countries, just – I just need a little bit of historical perspective here. They’ve all been there for a year and how has this effort matured and grown over time? Is it – did it start smaller, and we increased to this? Was it always at this size? I’m trying to get a sense of how you’re responding and also to what extent are you taking the lessons for Ukraine and incorporating it in your training for these 9 Ukrainian forces?

CRB: Okay Michael, so we started off on the first of October of 21 and that was when we initiated the persistent methodology of employing our teams and so at the time we had missions for 16 teams, so that was the initial offering and then as the threat of adversary aggression increased, we surged 4 additional teams in January of 22 to be in position at the right place, at the right time. You now, part of the establishment of combat credible forces on NATO’s eastern flank and then we went up to 20 teams with the deployment of the brigade headquarters in February of 22. So, we have had a maximum offering of 20 teams in the theater at any given time and as – as time moves along, that’s going to – that’s going to change. You know, it – we – we like to say that we have a running estimate of emerging missions. We also are very focused on identifying transition criteria so that the allied partners that we are training with, once they have achieved the goals whether they be capability or capacity goals or interoperability goals that have been defined by their nation as well as our higher headquarters, we then have the opportunity to, you know, optimize advisor teams, transition to new opportunities but again started off with 16, we surged to 20 and then now we’re currently at 19 teams.

JW: Okay, thank you for that sir. Next, will be up will be Ashley, then Haley and then I’ll go to Sylvie Lanteaume. So, go-ahead, go-ahead Ashley.

Ashley Roque: Hi, good morning. I wanted to see if we could get a bit more information on the training of Ukrainian forces. You mentioned, you know, HIMARS for Romania. Are you – are you working on the hardware with Ukrainian forces outside of the country but whether it’s HIMAR, switchblades or other new equipment or intelligence gathering mechanisms, etcetera?

CRB: Yeah, Ashley so 4th SFAB advisors are part of a tremendous team that is training Ukrainian armed forces in Germany.

AR: Okay, um, could you talk a little bit about how the ongoing war has sort of changed how the SFAB was envisioning going to operate this year within the command and then also sort of inter-rotating in and out, how are you sort of modifying the training that the soldiers get back home, so that they bring a different skillset. Is that something that’s been going on or can you just sort of walk us through that?

CRB: Yeah, so Ashley that, that’s a great question. So, so when you look at the continuum of armed conflict, competition, crisis and then conflict, the SFAB has a role in each one of those, and so I think, you know, most of you know the, the original inception of the SFAB concept developed by General Milley was to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan to allow our brigade combat teams to maintain the readiness for the emerging threats of, you know, again, you know, Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and so as we have seen a aggressive Russia, as identified in our national security strategy with China being the pacing threat, how does the SFAB support in crisis and conflict and I think the current situation in Europe has been extremely helpful for 4th SFAB as well as all of the SFAB’s develop a greater understanding of what we look like in crisis and conflict and so with the current array of combat credible forces on NATO’s eastern flank we have a better understanding of where we would fit in and so what I tell our advisors is, you know, who we’re partnered with in competition that may change as we move into crisis and conflict and we prepare to advise, support and liaise allied formations fighting in a large scale combat operation and environment and so what we have done is we have modified our validation program and our validation exercise to include scenarios in all 3 of the domains of armed conflict. So, you know, for example in competition, you know, very much focused on, you know, training our, our partners on everything from squad maneuver to logistics to intelligence and training with them and again, you know, because of the interoperability component we learn just as much from them, as they learn from us. Crisis, how do we rapidly deploy forces into the theater so that we can be in position before the onset of conflict, and I – I think we had a very good example of that when the Brigade Headquarters deployed on short notice in February. We, the Brigade Headquarters deployed from Fort Carson and because of our posture and our forward presence we were able to transition from arriving on the ground to full operational capabilities at Brigade Headquarters much more rapidly because of our forward posture and the ability of the units in Europe to receive us, to setup life support, to inform us on the relationships that we were going to have, to establish mission command and command and control communication systems. So, that was extremely helpful and then finally, you know, our validation exercise is a simulated execution with a multi-partner force in a large, scaled combat operations environment and so that’s how we have taken the changing security, environment in Europe and modified it to ensure that our advisors are as prepared as possible to be successful in competition where we, we think we’re going to spend, you know, most of our time. Crisis, which we have, you know, from my perspective, we have, we’ve experienced crisis over the last 6 months at different intervals based off the Russian invasion of Ukraine and then if necessary conflict, and what I would tell you is the advisors that will deploy on the first of October here in the next couple weeks, based off the lessons learned from the previous advisor rotations, they are the best prepared advisors that we have sent forward to Europe to accomplish those missions.

JW: Okay and thank you sir. Next, we’ll move on to Haley, then Sylvie and then we’ll go to Alex Horton. Go ahead Haley.

Haley Britzky: Hi, thanks, Haley with Task and Purpose. Just based off your last point, you go into what some of those lessons learned are for the new rotation and then also given Russia’s invade in earlier this year, has that changed at the request that you’re seeing or just the interest you’re seeing from different allies and partners in the region? Has that increased, have they been asking for training in anything specific or to work with you on anything specific?

CRB: Yeah, so I think it’s, it’s too early to make too many lessons learned or conclusions based off the operational environment, but I will tell you that based off the, the presence of SFAB advisors in Europe we have seen an increase in the demand signal for our advisor teams, and it’s come through, you know, multiple touch points. It’s come through the defender series of exercises in which allies have formed multinational task forces and they’ve seen and experienced the increased interoperability as a result of our presence and as well as some of the capability and capacity that we’ve built and another example of that would be North Macedonia. So, North Macedonia is the newest member of NATO. We’ve had advisors in North Macedonia since the first of October and we trained with them as they had their first light infantry battle group complete successful a NATO combat readiness evaluation and that certified them to be a force provider for NATO missions that come up. Additionally, to that, a company from that battle group deployed to the Joint Multinational Readiness Center at Hohenfels, Germany and participated in a rotation there. So, you know, we have, you know, been very proud of our support and the achievement of the North Macedonians and their neighbors have seen that and that has resulted in increased request for 4th SFAB advisors

HB: Thanks, and if I could just follow-up real quick on that. What, just to build off of that, like how do you explain to I guess maybe people who, who aren’t aware of sort of the work that you are all doing as far as the difference that pertains in order to make in an environment like this and how’s that creating partners it is going to give the edge they may be you had, you know, as a respect from other [* 0:21:00] increases from  [* 0:21:07].

CRB: Yeah. Haley, um I’m sorry, you broke up a little bit during the second portion of your question, so I know it’s a follow-up to my first answer. If you could repeat the second component of your question, thank you.

HB: Oh, yes, sure, sorry about that. Yeah, I was just asking to build off of your last point a little bit, could you just kind of explain a bit more for, I guess, maybe even people in the region who are unaware or people back home who don’t know, as sort of what that training that you’re providing them, what difference that’s going to make in this environment with Russia? What kind of edge that’s going to give these allies and partners they may not have had without the SFAB there to be training with them?

CRB: Okay. Yeah, so I go back to capability and capacity as well as interoperability being, you know, really our two main efforts with our allies and so, you know, when you look at North Macedonia, you know they are now a force provider to NATO operations and so it allows us, you know, to take advantage of everything that this incredible alliance, you know, has to offer and so, you know, maximizing the capability and the combat power of every member nation is, is what the efforts that we’re doing, you know, with nations like North Macedonia, very, very similar operation in Albania, and then when you talk about interoperability, you know the experiences that we have had leveraging the exercises in Europe to bring a multinational task force together and have them conduct operations that replicate large scale combat are invaluable and I’m going to hand you off to Lieutenant Colonel Ed Gibbons and so he’s our Brigade Operations Officer but previous to being the Brigade Operations Officer he commanded a company advisor team in Latvia and participated in a rotation at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany with the Latvians. So, Ed if you wanna talk about the gains that were made as a result of Allied Spirit 22.

LEG: Sure, so real quick, sorry. The Latvians and the Baltics have been focused on defensive operations for a while and the opportunity to go to Allied Spirit and be part of a multinational force and focus on offensive operations is something that we specifically help them think through how to, how to conduct deep operations. Recently they developed artillery capability that we helped them think through and employing for the first time and building the doctrine around doing that and we use the term interoperability, it’s a very broad term but what that really looks like in the physical, you now, realm, is an advisor on the ground who’s present with a partner, and we had a US battalion that was part of the Latvia brigade for the exercise. The US battalion lost communications with the Latvian brigade headquarters, and we had a US advisor that moved and brought a Latvian communication system to rebuild that communication infrastructure and so, you need to have the physical presence on the ground and that rebuilt the communication architecture that enabled Americans and the Latvians to communicate effectively.

JW: Thank you both for that. We’re going to move on next to Sylvie, then Alex and then I’ll go to John Vandiver. So, Sylvie go ahead.

Sylvie Lanteaume: Yes, hello, thank you. I understand that you don’t, you cannot speak to even say about the Ukrainians, but can you tell us – I know that there is especially stuff from artillery among you, so did you train them on artillery and what did you get from this training in general. What kind of fighters are they? Did they learn quickly? Did they – were you surprised? Can you tell us a little bit without going into specifics?

CRB: So, Sylvie you are correct that we have professional experienced and certified artillery advisors that do a fantastic job of, you know, building capacity amongst allied artillery units and we have supported the training of Ukrainian armed forces outside of Ukraine.

SL: Can you tell us a bit about them?

CRB: Um, unfortunately I can’t Sylvie.

SL: Uh, okay. Thank you.

JW: Okay, thank you sir. Next will be Alex, then John and then I’ll go to Sebastian Sprenger, please. So go ahead Alex.

Alex Horton: Hey, thanks Alex Horton at the Post. We want some clarification before my actual question. Could you tell us a bit about the size of these 19 teams and what you meant by the, the offer 20 of them? Does that mean, you know, if you had one more team, you’re at max capacity and something else has to change to get more? Can you clarify?

CRB: Hey, so Alex, so that’s, that’s a, that’s a great question. So, our forced generation model has one-third of the brigade is in what we call foundational training in which they are, you know, setting their teams from a personnel perspective. They’re going through individual training and certifications. One-third of the brigade is in collective training and so when I refer to the validation exercises that cover the continuum of armed conflict, that would occur in our collective training phase and then we have one-third of the brigade that is deployed in Europe and so, you know, that’s how we rotate. So, a sustainable model for us is, you know, that one-third concept and so when you look at one-third, it’s up to 20 teams and we, you know, that’s, that’s just how we ensure that we’re able to provide that persistent presence forward while also adhering to, you know, deployment guidance from, you know, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Forces Command. As far as the structure of the teams, you know, so the construct of our brigade is, you know, we have, we have 2 infantry battalions, 1 calvary squadron. We have an artillery battalion. We have an engineer battalion, and we have a logistics battalion. So, the maneuver advisor teams that come out of the infantry and the calvary squadron consists of 12 advisors but only 3 of those advisors are maneuver experts. We also have logisticians, we have medics, we have communication specialists. So, those advisor teams while they reside in an infantry battalion or calvary squadron they have a multitude of capabilities to be able to provide advisor support across the different if we were fighting functions. Our artillery teams, our engineer teams, they consist of 4 advisors. So, we have different size teams based off which specialty they represent and which specialty they are advising on.

AH: All right, that was a bit more detailed than I was looking for, so I’ll pass and give my colleague, John Vandiver.

JW: All right, sounds good. Thank you for that sir and John go ahead.

John Vandiver: Yeah, John from Stars and Stripes. Thanks Alex. Actually, I’d like to direct this one, if I could to Lieutenant Colonel Gibbons. I was interested given your experience being imbedded with the Latvian forces last year, I guess at the brigade level if I’m not mistaken, could you talk about, a little bit about what the atmosphere was like within that unit and what the reaction was like as events unfolded in Ukraine with Russian’s invasion. Kind of, just kind of describe what the mood was in the unit with those forces and then maybe after that how training sort of adapted and evolved as, you know, that war carried on and lessons began to be learned.

LEG: John, I think that’s a great question and great to hear your voice again and talk to you again. The Latvian, they were incredibly proud of their experience and performance at Allied Spirit. It was a real test of their capabilities and being able to, you know, command and control a brigade-size element in the offense and defense, and they were incredibly proud. It was certainly a unique time be, to be forwarded in Latvia with that team. You know, and one thing the Latvians experience that we don’t back here is just the, the threat that is, is very in close proximity. So, anytime there is a, you know, a Russian activity the Latvians have to take that very seriously. They don’t have the opportunity to, you know, make assumptions and think that an activity won’t occur and so they have a series of plans that, that enable kind of their collected defense and so they take everything very seriously.

JW: Did you have a follow-up John?

JV: No, that’s okay, thanks.

JW: Okay, thank you. Then we’re going to go to Sebastian next, go ahead.

Sebastian Sprenger: Thank you, Sebastian Sprenger with Defense News. I wanted to ask you about what kind of trends you are seeing on trending requests from the, in countries on the eastern plain. You know, where do the military leaders say, I’d like your help making my troops better at X, Y or Z.

CRB: Yeah, so Sebastian I, that is, it really varies and so the polls recently asked for additional fire support training with one of their Hallamshire battalions and so we were able to modify our force package to be able to meet that need. You know, with the, you know we are often times partnered with organizations that are the recipients of US equipment and so a good example, I talked about the HIMARS. Another example of that would be the Jail TV vehicles that the North Macedonians have purchased, and they are in-line to receive strikers and so one of the things that the North Macedonians have requested is logistics and sustainment expertise to prepare themselves to receive those, those vehicles to make sure that, you know, that they were going to have high operational readiness rates for those vehicles. So, those, those are 2 examples, but we are always in dialogue. I go back to our running estimate as a means with which to continually assess and analyze, you know, partner request and then our ability to support that being nested with our higher headquarters as well on the US side and then in being dialogue with the country teams in those countries that we’re supporting, over.

JW: Did you have a follow-up Sebastian?

SS: Yeah, real quick on the issue, the problems or maybe there is some improvements, I’m curious about your perspective when it comes to military mobility either procedurally or, you know, rail gauges being different throughout Europe. Is that something that’s popped up on your radar?

CRB: Uh, that is, that has not been a problem that we’ve identified but I do think that is part of the exercise construct within Europe, you know, they’re, you know, they’re replicating large scale combat operations and so the ability to move forces and get them in the right position is, is part of the exercise. Also, something that we’re focused on as well is, you know, is enabling wet-gap crossings, so we have our engineer battalion is currently in Romania working with the 10th Engineer Brigade of the Romania army. You know, with the recognition that, you know, with a number of, you now, rivers and wet-gaps that exist in Europe, I mean that’s going to be something that we have to take into account and plan for and are prepared to do that a multinational level.

JW: Okay, thank you for that sir. Ladies and gentlemen, my apologies but we’ve reached the end of our time for today’s roundtable. If you, we didn’t get to you and you do have some questions, you have my email address, go ahead and send those to me, and I’ll work with 4th SFAB to get you responses as soon as I can. So, again, thank you all for attending today. This concludes the roundtable.