HEIDELBERG, Germany, Sept. 22, 2011 -- Senior land forces commanders from across Europe wrapped up three days of discussion of military partnerships and security cooperation as the U.S. Army Europe-led Conference of European Armies came to a close today.
This year's conference, the 19th CEA, took place in Italy.
U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno took part in this year's event. In an interview during the CEA he underscored the importance of developing relationships with America's European allies and partners.
"We have to continue to adapt and adjust, and so (the CEA) gives us an opportunity to discuss those issues as we move forward," Odierno said. "It's about interoperability. It's about understanding each other's doctrine. It's about understanding tactics, techniques and procedures that different nations bring."
"This eases the burden as we deploy together as a coalition, and if we're able to ease the burden in training it'll make it much easier to integrate ourselves as we're on a mission, whether it be in Afghanistan, Libya or other places around the world," he continued.
Everything is about relationships, he said, strengthening bonds with longtime colleagues and reaching out to new partners, specifically those Eastern European forces that are now working so closely with the U.S.
"In terms of U.S. security, the constant relationships that we have with these countries, the constant integration, the partnerships that are developed, the common training environments that we use, are very important as we meet the very complex challenges that are ahead of us," he said.
Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, USAREUR commanding general, co-hosted the CEA and spoke on the successes of U.S. and European forces during a decade of combat in Afghanistan.
Eighty-five percent of the International Security Assistance Force has come from European armies, and every one of those European armies has improved significantly because of combat experience and links with allies, Hertling said.
Many of those links have been forged in training as well, Hertling said, as forces have prepared for real-world operations at USAREUR and partner nation sites across Europe, participating together in bilateral or small and ad hoc multilateral exercises focused on the current fight. Many of those events took place at what he called USAREUR's "crown jewel" -- the Joint Multinational Training Command at Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels, Germany.
"At JMTC, we have incorporated the latest doctrinal changes as they apply to counterinsurgency operations; tactics, techniques and procedures; counter-improvised explosive device lessons; and new intelligence-gathering techniques" to keep the center's training state-of-the-art, Hertling told the assembled leaders.
He illustrated the extent to which USAREUR is applying those methods to combined training with an anecdote about Secretary of the Army John McHugh's recent visit to JMTC. The secretary, he said, saw U.S. Soldiers training there alongside Bulgarian forces conducting counter-IED training, Georgian forces in a Mission Rehearsal Exercise, USAREUR staff personnel returning from an exercise in Poland, an Italian observer-controller giving an after-action review to U.S. forces, and soldiers from several European nations attending courses at the 7th Army NCO Academy.
Hertling offered just a few statistics and facts to help define the scope of that cooperative training:
-- multinational partners have taken part in every Mission Rehearsal Exercise at JMTC's Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels since 2005
-- more than 14,000 allied and partner nation personnel have participated in predeployment training events at JMTC since 2005
-- more than 4,000 personnel from 21 countries have participated in Operational Mentor and Liaison Team and Police OMLT training programs
-- more than 300 troops from 24 nations have participated in intelligence training since May 2010
-- more than 900 noncommissioned officers from allied and partner nations -- most from Poland -- have attended the NCO academy over the past eight years
-- international forces have been integrated into JMTC observer-controller teams and serve as trainers at the NCO academy
In his remarks Hertling also emphasized the necessity of teamwork to future conflicts and challenges.
"As ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) draws down, as some of our forces decrease in size, as we face budget constraints, we must find new ways to develop partnerships through theater security cooperation -- exercises, training events, regional vice bilateral partnerships, professional development of officers and noncommissioned officers -- to meet the challenges," he said.
CEA co-host Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Valotto, chief of staff of the Italian army, called the conference an ideal setting for "the true decision makers of our armies" to talk and develop, and consolidate new and old partnerships.
"Security and stability is increasingly relying upon joint efforts and true synergy amongst countries," Valotto said in an interview during the conference. "Security is a global challenge that requires global answers. That is why the CEA is instrumental to our mission. Operations today are about coalitions, partnering down to the last soldier on the ground. We need to exchange experiences and try to widen our knowledge all together."
"We discussed using the lessons learned from operations as a catalyst for change to create more effective multinational coalitions," Odierno wrote on his Facebook page of his experience at the conference. "We also discussed how coalition warfare doesn't just enhance international legitimacy for action, but it also brings valuable perspectives and unique capabilities to all of our nations. We will continue to address our shared security challenges in an uncertain future."