GARMISCH, Germany – The primary role of NATO’s military forces is to promote peace and guarantee the territorial integrity, political independence and security of member states.
"The alliance is in a state of profound change right now," said Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Army General Christopher G. Cavoli, during the Senior Army Leaders Meeting XXII in Garmisch, Germany, July 24-28.
"For the last 30 years we've been focused on crisis management in out of operations areas. Today we've changed our focus to collective deterrence and defense of the NATO operating area," said Cavoli.
The annual meeting followed shortly after the historic NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12 where NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the approval by alliance members of the most detailed and robust defense plans since the end of the Cold War.
During the NATO summit, member states committed “to contribute the necessary forces, capabilities and resources to the full range of NATO operations, missions and activities. This includes meeting requirements for deterrence and defense, providing the forces needed to implement NATO’s defense plans and contribute to NATO crisis management operations.”
"The current conflict in Europe has set in motion a foundational transformation of European security that is forcing the NATO alliance to shift away from its political focus back to its military roots," said Andrew A. Michta, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a keynote speaker during SALM XXII.
One of the cornerstones for the U.S. Army NATO’s ability to adapt to a changing strategic environment is the annual Strategic Army Leader Meeting.
U.S. Army NATO supports NATO by continuously changing how the organization’s two battalions and nine companies provide for the roughly 800 Soldiers and their families assigned to NATO force structure organizations in the United States and 21 NATO member nations in Europe.
The participants in the meeting were a combination of senior Army officers and senior national representatives assigned to NATO billets, senior Army leaders assigned to U.S. Army Europe units, and program managers from across the theater who provide support to the Soldiers and their families.
Col. Troy Alexander, U.S. Army NATO Brigade commander, gave opening remarks to the assembled leaders on the first day of the meeting.
“From my perspective what you all do each and every day is just incredible,” said Alexander. “This week is a real opportunity to make sure we know what is going on to our left and right flanks and to have some hard conversations about what we must do to strengthen alliance capabilities, capacity and interoperability.”
The meeting kicked off July 24 with a five-hour session to orient senior Army officers newly assigned to NATO billets and give them the opportunity to meet the commanders and command sergeants major from Allied Forces North Battalion and Allied Forces South Battalion.
The SALM provides U.S. Senior National Representatives and Senior Army Leaders assigned to NATO units with a forum to receive strategic guidance and create shared situational understanding of the current strategic environment.
The meeting further affords USA NATO the opportunity to coordinate and synchronize goals and objectives, operational planning and execution for the coming fiscal year.
Finally, the meeting facilitates face-to-face interactions and relationship building with geographically separated Army Senior Leaders, identifying issues, concerns, and opportunities to improve warfighter support to Soldiers and families assigned to NATO organizations.
This year SALM XXII featured 23 unique sessions ranging from broad NATO topics to NATO manning strategies, and NATO deployments and operations.
“This is one of those huge touchpoints throughout the year where I get to come in and hear my leadership’s priorities within the theater, and I get a better understanding of what the U.S. Army is doing writ large,” said Col. Cheryl Korver, senior national representative at the Rapid Reaction Corps-France in Lille. “I also get the opportunity to hear about what my contemporaries and colleagues throughout the AOR (area of responsibility) are doing, whether it's in other foreign national headquarters or in the support elements.
“And lastly, I get a chance to talk about the quality-of-life issues and really get to meet with representatives who can help address the issues I have,” said Korver. “And then on the sidelines I get an opportunity to meet and network with people that will make my job easier.”
For Col. Phillip Borders, senior national representative for the NATO Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm, Germany, the high point in the SALM was the opportunity to build relationships across the theater.
“Our responsibility is really before Article 4 (of the North Atlantic Treaty), setting the theater and the reinforcement by forces,” said Borders. “We must develop those relationships now to ensure deterrence and defense of the alliance and to build those relationships across 31 different countries, soon to be 32.”
“For me those relationships are the biggest takeaways to ensure we can actually get to the fight and to win alongside our NATO allies, if necessary,” said Borders.
This year’s meeting also included a Spouses Forum, where USA NATO sought to build relationships with geographically separated families. Activities included discussions and one-on-one opportunities with various members of the staff in a flexible and open schedule. The discussions allowed participants to gain knowledge on the variety of capabilities and tools available to them in the field, while building relationships and enjoying recreational activities in Garmisch.
The spouse activities culminated in a resilience hike around the picturesque Eibsee, a lake high in the Bavarian Alps.
“A cornerstone of resilience is a strong community,” said Lt. Col. Craig Johnson, U.S. Army NATO chaplain. “As we continue to develop spiritual resilience in the USA NATO brigade formation, we want to focus on those who are away from the typical Army communities and challenge ourselves and our service members in ways that develop community support that enables them to thrive as military families in unique NATO assignments.”
The mission of U.S. Army NATO is to provide individual Soldier and family training, logistics, human resources, and administrative agent support at USA NATO locations to ensure ready and resilient Soldiers, develop leaders, maintain joint and multinational partnerships, and enhance an evolving alliance.
A quote repeated by multiple speakers that captured the quintessence of the attitude pervading the weeklong event was the participants’ united commitment “to defend every inch of allied territory.”
For more information check out the U.S Army NATO Brigade website.