By Nathan Van Schaik, IMCOMOctober 31, 2011
CAMP ROBERTSON, Germany, Oct. 31, 2011 -- German soldiers with the 1st Light Infantry Regiment have just secured the southern sector of Ogaard City. Lookouts are on 24-hour alert while soldiers perched from armored vehicles maintain 360 degrees of security. Tensions run high.
Yesterday they survived an ambush and discovered two explosive devices near the city. But the Afghan National Police have been cooperative and the local people here have demonstrated a willingness to help. The company commander in charge of the regiment's company has decided to press forward to the next village of Taji. Intelligence reports indicate that the Taliban has a smuggling route there.
This is pre-deployment training for the German forces. The Bundeswehr, as they are known, regularly use the training grounds here in Schweinfurt and the 1st Light Infantry Regiment is slotted to head to Afghanistan in the coming months.
Pfaendhausen, sometimes known as Area Mike, is the 6,000-acre training facility just north of the USAG Schweinfurt installation. It's operated by Schweinfurt Training Support Center and for both the German and American forces who regularly use it, it's become a real gem.
The relationship between the German and American armies, and among many other allied forces, rests on a sense of interdependency, particularly during times marked by cutbacks and downsizing. The training grounds, for example, are available to all those partner armies in need of training. While the U.S. Army has parked here in Schweinfurt, by no means are its training grounds available for the sole use of U.S. forces.
"If U.S. forces need to use training grounds in Wildflecken, the training area operated by the German army, it's available," said Mike Cormier, the 172nd Infantry Brigade partnership officer and an Army liaison officer at Schweinfurt. "Similarly, if the Germans need Schweinfurt, it too is available."
Most recently, for example, one of Schweinfurt's signal battalions used Germany's training grounds at Wildflecken. Earlier this summer, Soldiers from USAG Schweinfurt made it to the nearby German base at Hammelburg to sharpen their sniper skills.
"We have great relations with the Bundeswehr," said William Tackling, chief of the Regional Training Support Division, Schweinfurt. "We have the largest U.S. controlled Home Station Local Training Area in Germany, which is able to support our host nation military as well. There's the 467th Logistics Battalion from Volkach, the 452nd MP Battalion out of Veitsochheim and the Bundeswehr infantry school in Hammelburg -- all regular users of Schweinfurt's training facilities."
Both multinational training and the shared usage of training grounds have begun to characterize the second decade of the twenty-first century.
In the past year alone, the German army has used the Schweinfurt training facilities in four large training exercises, drawing inside its gates as many as 1,300 German soldiers, according to George Stoecker, the range control officer who assists in the allocation of precious training time and space. In total, the Bundeswehr have utilized the training area to improve its infantry contingents, logistics operations, canine units, sniper units and air force security forces.
"In Afghanistan we work more and more with the American Army," said Master Sgt. Thomas Chwarelnik. Chwarelnik is a training officer with the German army. Today he evaluates and provides oversight to the 2nd Company's pre-deployment training. "We have to work with them. Just to know how they work is very important for us to know."
Chwarelnik, who shaves his skull with a blade and is quick to crack a joke, would know. He spent years in Kosovo and has worked side-by-side with Soldiers in the French, Austrian and American militaries. He's stationed out of Hammelburg infantry school, or Infanterieschule -- the only one in all of Germany and located just 30 kilometers west of the U.S. Army garrison in Schweinfurt.
According to German media reports, the prospect of further downsizing looms over the heads of German military officials. In the same vein, as the U.S. Army faces budget constraints and force structure reductions, Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, the head of U.S. Army Europe, has reiterated that everything is on the table.
Despite these realities, or rather in spite of them, interdependency among NATO allies is tightening. Enhancing U.S. and partner nation capacities in what USAREUR dubs "security cooperation initiatives" is its own pragmatic response to the sober realization that it has downsized as much as 80 percent since the 1980s, according to the USAREUR website.
"Down from a force of more than 210,000 Soldiers at the height of the Cold War in 1982 (and smaller than the 62,000 that existed in on 9/11)," said Hertling in an October article in Army magazine, "USAREUR now prepares U.S. and allied forces in exercises and at our own combat training center."
Whether through multinational training or shared usage, cooperation is the new buzz word.
"It's the vicinity to Hammelburg that makes Schweinfurt so useful to us," Chwarelnik said. It's big enough for an entire company to train for three straight days. Of the most useful training areas, Hammelburg, Wildflecken, Schweinfurt and both Lehnin and Altengrabow -- both distant treks near Berlin -- top Chwarelnik's list.
Schweinfurt is a real gem. He said it mirrors more realistic combat road movements, provides more elbow room to train and is a nesting point for American and German combat expertise.
Chwarelnik turns around and heads back to camp. He's got homework to finish. He must ensure that 1st Light Infantry Regiment is ready for its deployment to Afghanistan.