Boots on the Ground: Vital in Peacetime, Too
Steele, Dennis, Army
USAREUR at the Vanguard of Multilevel Multinational Engagement
The dim cargo bed of a Lithuanian military truck served as the unlikely nexus of U.S. military strategy as it applies to foreign military engagement and multinational training, but as raindrops thudded against the cargo bed's taut cover on the first day of exercise Saber Strike 2012's situational training phase, there was no better example of the exercise's purpose.
Saber Strike, which focuses on the NATO partner states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, is one of the premier annual joint multinational training events staged by U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR). (Canada, Finland, France and the United Kingdom also sent personnel to participate in Saber Strike, making it an eight-country NATO exercise.)
USAREUR conducts or supports more man 20 multinational exercises annually and stages many other engagement events such as courses, conferences and symposia. USAREUR's exercise and training program is sophisticated and complex, but each element depends on a simple and proven formula - American soldiers directly working with international forces to build relationships and interoperability.
Under the refocused U.S. national strategy announced earlier this year, the importance of multinational training and engagement events will increase. Such events are based on face-to-face encounters and rapport-building in a personal way, proving that even in peacetime, America needs boots on the ground.
On that rainy morning in Latvia, a pair of those boots belonged to Pennsylvania Army National Guard CPT Michael Adams, who was fitting into the role of liaison officer. He is the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Squadron, 104th Cavalry (2/104th). During Saber Strike he was attached to a headquarters company from the Lithuanian National Defense Volunteer Forces, the reserve component of the Lithuanian army, which was preparing for a deployment to Afghanistan to serve in NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and support a provincial reconstruction team in the German army sector.
One of the purposes layered within Saber Strike is helping to tactically prepare NATO units for ISAF deployments. A Latvian regular army company also was training for an ISAF rotation during the exercise.
A composite platoon from 2/ 104th Cavalry, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, was partnered with the Lithuanian company during Saber Strike. Lithuania and Pennsylvania are paired under the National Guard's State Partnership Program, which had its start in the three Baltic states more than 20 years ago as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia regained their independence. The program now extends to more than 60 countries worldwide, and USAREUR uses assets under the program to bolster its training/engagement program. In Europe, 27 countries are partnered with 27 states.
CPT Adams sat on a bench inside the truck listening to radio chatter from the Lithuanian and U.S. platoons. Lithuanian PVT Vida Riukiene operated the company radio, responding to calls from platoon leaders and relaying messages to the exercise control cell in "NATO English" (serviceable general English comprehension laced with an understanding of military-specific terminology). When PVT Riukiene got stuck on a word, CPT Adams came to her rescue.
While coordinating with the American side, his job - as he saw it - was to be available to the Lithuanian company's leadership, the commander and executive officer, answering their questions, mentoring when it was appropriate and butting out of their business when that, too, was appropriate.
One of the higher-level strategic objectives of all multinational missions relates to the area of "assurance" - that a U.S. presence at routine training events, for example, builds trust among allies that the United States will also show up when the alarm bells are ringing.
RFF is the acronym for request for forces, which a U. …