HOHENFELS, Germany — Soldiers from the 2nd Cavalry Regiment crammed into blacked-out armored vehicles for a jarring ride through the rough terrain of "the box," the nickname used for the training area at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, or JMRC. Their vehicles and packs were loaded down with combat gear, communication equipment, computers, cables, weapons and more.
The deafening roar of engines drowned out every sound except the crackling of the radio as vehicle commanders and drivers navigated to their positions.
With an unexpected shudder of the vehicle, leaders shouted orders to begin preparing defensive and fighting positions.
Moving into their fighting positions was just the beginning stage of Saber Junction 23, which lasted more than two weeks from Aug. 28 to Sep. 16. The overall mission relied on 16 NATO partner militaries to work together and prove their interoperability in a relentless training environment.
“I think that there is no better environment to cooperate than when you're under the stress of a combat training center,” said Lt. Col. William Murray, the commander of Regimental Engineer Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment. “Everyone wants to do well and represent their unit and their nation."
The 19-day exercise tested everything from Soldiers’ warfighting and communication skills to their ability to communicate across languages and integrate their battle strategies, all while under the stress of field conditions and little sleep.
Each day and night presented a new set of challenges for the exhausted Soldiers. Opposing Forces, also known as OPFOR, composed primarily of Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, probed for weaknesses to exploit persistently. Italian and Polish soldiers also played a role in simulating enemy forces with ongoing attacks both by tank and by foot.
Troops rapidly dug in, moving across the land to gain their objectives, often dripping with sweat, gritty with sand and dirt while defending positions or gaining ground. Language barriers and varying tactics added to the chaos of war, creating a realistic combat environment.
JMRC provided coaches and trainers to evaluate participating nations, including OPFOR units. This feedback was vital for Soldiers to improve their tactics and communication to maintain the highest level of combat readiness possible.
"Everything is being tested. One of the biggest challenges that I noticed at the very beginning was with communications. We get to see those challenges,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jesus Pulido, an Observer Coach Trainer with JMRC. “They covered down effectively. They didn't allow obstacles to stop them or prevent them from accomplishing their mission."
From one minute to the next, Soldiers taking a break to eat could suddenly and unexpectedly find themselves in a firefight with OPFOR. Gunfire from rifles or mounted machine guns could ring in their ears at any moment. A chemical attack with CS gas might sting their nostrils and burin their eyes, prompting them to don chemical masks in seconds and heavy protective suits in the heat of day.
With both permanent and rotational forces in Europe, NATO forces and their partners are better positioned to deter current and potential threats, Murray said.
"As Soldiers of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, we know our job here in Europe is to respond in case something happens,” said Murray, whose unit is stationed in Vilseck, Germany. "We can move anywhere in Europe in about 48 to 72 hours to cover down on any problem that our nation needs to support.”