Six thousand Polish and American soldiers took part in Exercise Allied Spirit 2020, linked to Exercise Defender Europe 2020.
These were to be the greatest maneuvers by the US Army in Europe. The Americans were planning to transfer here 20,000 soldiers and 13,000 pieces of equipment. Another 9,000 was to be taken from magazines here in Europe. The plan included checking potential routes for troop transfer and carrying out several tactical exercises. The goal was to demonstrate readiness to support the allies if they were attacked.
In Exercise Defender Europe 2020 localization was crucial. Unfortunately, all the plans were backfired due to the coronavirus epidemic. Although some of the soldiers had already come to Poland, the Americans decided to change the scenario, because, as they informed, “health, security and readiness of soldiers, civilians and their relatives to take action is our priority.” In effect, 4,000 US Army people who were to take part in Exercise Allied Spirit 2020, being part of these great maneuvers, got stuck on the Drawsko Pomorskie training field.
For several weeks, the fate of this exercise was uncertain. According to BrigGen Brett G. Sylvia, Deputy Commanding General of the 1st Cavalry Division, and at the same time Commander of the United States Division Headquarters (Forward) (Mission Command Element), soldiers used the time well: “The training field in Drawsko Pomorskie is perfect for training. For us it’s obvious that when circumstances don’t allow for transfer, we just continue our training. It was a perfect opportunity to develop troop integrity and readiness.”
After two months, it turned out that Exercise Allied Spirit 2020 will take place, although the scenario had been slightly modified. Of the planned 10,000 trainees, only 6,000 were engaged. Four thousand of them were American soldiers of the US Division Headquarters (Forward), the 1st Cavalry Division, 3rd Infantry Division, 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, and the 7th Army Training Command. Another 2,000 troops were the soldiers of the Polish Armed Forces. The largest team, which “fought” hand in hand with American soldiers, were the soldiers of the 12th Mechanized Brigade. The role of the enemy was played by the 9th Armored Cavalry Brigade. On the field, there were also the paratroopers of the 6th Airborne Brigade and engineer troops, and the allies’ activity was supported by aviation.
The scenario assumed that the allied forces would attack to stop the enemy. One of the elements of this maneuver was a crossing, and the troops focused on that. Polish troops train this in almost every exercise, but for the allies, such activity is not common. “We train to make our combat vehicles capable of crossing water obstacles, but from what American soldiers told us we understand they hadn’t done this kind of exercise for a long time. On the eastern flank – because that’s the terrain that we are preparing for – there are a lot of lakes and other water bodies, so our allies must be ready to cross them,” says LtCol Piotr Balon, Commander of the 2nd Motorized Battalion of the 12th Mechanized Brigade. This is confirmed by Col Patrick O’Neal, Commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd US Army Infantry Division. “Such crossing is something exceptional for us, since our troops do not train crossing water obstacles too often.”
Originally, the US, German and British troops were to be responsible for this part of maneuvers, but due to the pandemic they didn’t come to Poland. There were other American soldiers in Drawsko Pomorskie (9th Engineering Battalion), but they had other tasks. For that reason, the Polish soldiers of the 2nd and 5th Engineering Regiment, 2nd Sapper Regiment, 1st and 3rd Road and Bridge Battalion, and the Rescue and Evacuation Team of the 2nd Sapper Battalion became responsible for organizing and securing the crossings. “We can say that the coronavirus pandemic allowed for a closer cooperation with Polish soldiers,” said BrigGen Sylvia.
The Poles organized airborne crossings, during which the troops were transferred to the other bank on self-propelled amphibious transporters; ferry crossings, during which equipment was transported; and bridge crossings, which were in fact the most spectacular, as the obstacle was crossed by the US Army heavy tracked vehicles. What’s interesting, for the first time in history, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles were crossing pontoon bridges built by the Poles. During one of the greatest passages, a 152-meter bridge was crossed by as many as 120 various vehicles. How was the cooperation between the allies during the task? “For us there’s no difference what vehicles cross the obstacle. This exercise was however a perfect opportunity for sharing our experiences and overcoming the language barrier,” says LtCol Piotr Kranz, Commander of the Pontoon Battalion of the 2nd Engineering Regiment. He also points to the fact that it is essential to observe security rules – between the almost 30-ton vehicles, a distance of 40 meters should be kept, and they cannot move faster than 10 kmph. The bridge crossing was also performed by trucks and Humvees, and the Rosomaks and IFVs simply passed the lake on their own.
“For the soldiers of both armies, such cooperation is a fantastic experience. On a regular basis we do the tasks in different types of terrain, so here we can verify our capabilities to know what to do in the future. Apart from that, it’s a great opportunity to unify signals used for communication between troops. We all must know exactly what we’re doing,” summarized Col Marek Wawrzyniak, Chief of the Military Engineering Directorate at the Armed Forces General Command. It seems that the Americans are satisfied with the cooperation, since the commander of the 9th Battalion decided to pass his duties to his successor right during the Defender maneuvers, and on top of that – on the pontoon bridge built by the Poles.
Attention! Aero Being Dropped
In Drawsko Pomorskie, there also took place an episode of Exercise Defender Europe 2020, originally planned to be carried out in Lithuania during Exercise Swift Response. However, the plans changed, and on the largest Polish training field landed the avant-garde team of the 6th Airborne Brigade, which scouted and secured the airdrop site for the main forces. The next day, almost 500 other paratroopers were dropped from the Hercules and CASA aircraft to penetrate further into the enemy territory and hold them back to enable the allied teams to continue their attack.
During the exercises, the troops used one of 15 Aero high-mobility vehicles, which the 6th Airborne Brigade had received in January 2020. These vehicles can be dropped from Hercules aircraft. “We regained the capabilities that our army had lost 34 years ago,” said during the exercise BrigGen Grzegorz Grodzki, Commander of the 6th Airborne Brigade. The last of such heavy drops, specifically the drop of UAZ-469B from the AN-12B aircraft, took place on April 25, 1986.
During the maneuvers, some soldiers were equipped with a multiple integrated laser engagement system (MILES), which the Americans brought with them. Capt Błażej Łukaszewski, Press Officer for the 12th Mechanized Brigade, says that this had been its first use in Poland on such a grand scale. “Elements of this system are fixed to a soldier’s helmet, vest and gun. Several other elements – from six to ten – are also placed on vehicles. When in warfare we are targeted by an enemy with a laser beam, we are excluded from fight for 24 hours,” tells us the Captain. “When many soldiers are eliminated at the same time, the commander must continue the operation anyway. This is quite a challenge, but it gives the real picture of how soldiers are prepared for battlefield activity,” he adds.
Exercise Allied Spirit ended on June 19, 2020, when according to the original plan of maneuvers, American soldiers were to be on their way back home to the United States. However, nobody seemed to complain, particularly that they were provided good living conditions. American troops stayed in a camp designed specifically for them, with a PX store inside, which is characteristic for the US military bases. They could also use the service of several nearby food stands.
Although the maneuvers did not follow the original plan, the American soldiers openly expressed their satisfaction. The US Army Headquarters, which commanded the exercise, emphasized that the main goal was to test the procedures for the transfer of American forces to Europe. “Despite the corrections made to the plan due to the COVID-19 risk, many strategic readiness goals were reached,” informed the US Army Headquarters in their announcement.
autor zdjęć: Michał Niwicz