By Mr. Dave Melancon (Europe)May 7, 2010
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Soldiers of U.S. Army Europe's 170th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will march into history during Russia's 65th Victory Day parade in Moscow, May 9.
USAREUR historians said the event marks the first time a serving, active-duty U.S. Army unit, carrying the American flag and representing the United States, will march in the parade.
The 75 Soldiers from Company C, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, based in Baumholder, Germany, will join military units from Russia, Great Britain, France, Poland and member nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States in the historic march through Moscow's Red Square. Company C took its place in the estimated 11,000-Soldier formation Tuesday night as part of the first dress rehearsal march.
A 45-piece band from U.S. Naval Forces Europe will also take part in Victory Day commemorative events.
The parade, which commemorates the 65th anniversary of the allies' victory over the Axis powers during World War II, is being called the largest since 1945.
More than 150 armored vehicles -- including historic Soviet T-34 tanks -- are also part of the event. The Russian air force will fly over Moscow with more than 127 combat aircraft.
In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Russia's Minister of Defense, Anatoly Serdyukov, invited the United States military to take part in the parade.
"The participation of military units of the states of the anti-Hitler coalition in this event in Moscow will testify to the readiness to develop the relations between armed forces of our countries," Serdyukov wrote. He said the event is a symbol of a new partnership ready to take on new challenges and confront new threats, particularly the fight against international terrorism.
"We got a good company and we're ready to go to Russia," said Capt. Matthew Strand, C Company commander. "We're very excited. We have been working a lot during our gunnery during the last 30 days and we're ready to go to Moscow."
Strand said the company found time for drill and ceremony training during its gunnery and unit training at GrafenwAfAPhr and Hohenfels, Germany in April. The company practiced marching and helped Soldiers obtain and tailor the Army dress blue uniforms the 75 troops will wear in the parade.
Strand said he hopes his Soldiers understand that they are part of a larger mission and that they are joining a formation of allied Soldiers to share in the victory in World War II and honor the sacrifices of all Soldiers and civilians during the conflict.
Maj. Alexander Peteryaev, a platoon leader in the Soviet Red Army, was killed in action near Smolensk in 1943. Today his grandson, 1st Lt. Ilya Ivanov, is the Company C executive officer.
Ivanov now calls Kima, Texas, his hometown. But he said the parade is a return to "familiar stomping grounds." The lieutenant emigrated with his family from Vladivostok, on Russia's far eastern coast between China and Japan, in 1996.
"This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to wear this American uniform in Red Square and be a part of an event that commemorates and remembers the sacrifices of the Allies as we fought against the Nazi tyranny," he said.
Spc. Robert Ervin, an infantryman from Clarksville, Tenn., said his wife was concerned when he told her about the mission.
"She did not understand that Russia invited us," he said. "A lot of people are still in the dark about the relationship between our two countries. This is an experience that will bring us closer together."
"She feels alright about it now," he added. "She's excited to see her husband be part of this."
The infantryman said he plans to talk about music, food and free time activities with his Russian army counterparts.
Along with his uniforms, Ervin said he is carrying eight 1st Armored Division uniform patches, about a dozen 170th Infantry Brigade unit patches and an assortment of rank insignia that he is hoping to trade for the Russian versions.
"I will remember my first step into Red Square and knowing that I am one of the first 75 Americans taking that first step," he said. "This is the first time that Americans get to step on Russian soil for a Victory Day parade. This event may help us bond together with better understanding between our two peoples."
And to facilitate that bonding, Ervin said, he has trained himself beyond drill and ceremony practice.
"I am trying to learn basic greetings so I can prove myself a good guest," he said.
Ivanov said he has also been teaching his Soldiers about the country's history and sacrifice during World War II, known as the Great Patriotic War by Russians.
"They understand the magnitude and they see it from the Russian perspective better than they did a few weeks ago," Ivanov said.
Between rehearsals, the C Company Soldiers will get a look at Russian culture during visits to important sites such as Moscow's art galleries, the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral, a circus, and Lenin's tomb, he said.
"I hope they see a different side of Russia than they may have heard about from the scary stories from the Cold War era," Ivanov said. "The Russian people are open to friendship. They will see them as people and not as history told them they are."