The Military Operations in Urban Terrain training site was abustle with activity. Soldiers in heavy, hot, chemical and biological protective gear moved through the buildings and tent city that sprouted up to house a division-level headquarters unit being put to the test by III Corps, handling every scenario from planning battles against near-peer threats to throngs of refugees blocking the forward movement of troops during the corps’ Warfighting exercise.

Upon closer look, however, the uniforms of the soldiers seemed slightly off from the normal gear one would see on a U.S. Army soldier. That’s because these soldiers hailed from one of the nation’s oldest and strongest allies, the United Kingdom. More than 400 soldiers of the 3rd U.K. Division, England’s warfighting division, had flown across the Atlantic Ocean to participate in an exercise that not only makes the alliance between the two armies stronger, but more effective.

“Warfare is changing, and we’ve realized over a number of years and decades that we’re not going to go anywhere without our ‘best mates,’” said U.K. Capt. Emmerson Wood, a division staff officer. “This exercise is an opportunity for us to come and train at the corps level, working alongside American divisions and basically putting our collaboration to the test.”

Participating in the exercise at Fort Hood gives the British soldiers an opportunity to learn how best to integrate on today’s battlefield with a major American unit — III Corps — the 3rd U.K. Division has been fighting beside since World War I, he said.

“We work slightly differently, so we need to understand how we can work together,” Wood said. “So we have to do it regularly. We’re learning how to operate with our American allies because we need to understand how better to deter threats in the future.”

Uniting the two armies’ capabilities and interoperability is essential to strengthening the fighting might of both, added U.K. Maj. Thomas Brown.

“As a staff officer, we really have the opportunity now to see the strengths we have as individual armies, and we can both stand alone as formidable forces,” he said. “But when we come together, it shows that we complement each other and only make us stronger as allied units. I think we’re only going to get stronger and stronger (as allies).”

For most of the U.K. soldiers, the exercise was their first opportunity to work closely with U.S. soldiers.

“The U.S. has been amazing in terms of giving us support, in giving us the training we need to operate their equipment,” said U.K. Sgt. Maj. Anthony Burrell, a Birmingham, U.K. native in charge of the Real Life Support Team. “Even though (the equipment) is similar, it’s still different in small ways. On a daily basis, we have an engineer who ... engages with us, even if there is nothing wrong. That, for me, because I’ve never worked so closely with the U.S., shows me they will bend over backward for us while we’re here.

“The interoperability piece, for me, having lived it, is second to none.”

The best part of the training for both his soldiers and the U.S. troops working with him has been the exchange of “best practices,” Burrell said. For example, the Real Life Support Team — which provides logistics support, meals and even security — has been operating a dining facility that serves three meals during the day and one at night with only one noncommissioned officer and 12 junior troops. Each of the meals are made fresh and offer up to four choices for a main course.

“All the U.S. troops we have here ... are wanting to engage with our juniors to get an understanding (of how we do it), because they are overwhelmed because we obviously don’t have a lot of manpower, so how are we making it work? They want to know how we do business and how we manage to be so effective,” he said.

That sharing of best practices has been one of the most rewarding parts of the exercise, said U.K. Lance Cpl. Ashley Brydges, the day shift commander for the Real Life Support Team.

“We’re starting to pick up the things (U.S. troops) do well, and I’ve noticed (the Americans have) started picking up on some of the things we do well,” said the Staffordshire Moorlands, U.K. native, whose rank is the equivalent of a U.S. Army corporal — the first noncommissioned officer rank. “Coming out here, doing something totally different from what I would normally be doing, is really helping me grow as a noncommissioned officer. It’s been very beneficial.”

The exercise is the first opportunity Brydges has had to visit the United States, and he said he has been enjoying his time in Texas — especially the sports bars.

“It’s nice to watch a bit of American sports — my favorite so far is basketball,” he said. “I watched a bit of American football, but I didn’t really understand the rules. And the people here are very friendly and very accommodating.”

The friendly atmosphere was noticed by all the U.K. soldiers who have had an opportunity to visit the local community.

“I really like Texas so far — haven’t been to that many places yet, just to Killeen, but will have an opportunity to get a few days near end of the exercise to visit places such as San Antonio or Austin,” said U.K. Pvt. Beth Dawson, a radio communications specialist from Brighton, U.K.

So far the exercise has not only been beneficial for the U.K. troops, but challenging, she said.

“Last week we ended up being on the same (radio) frequency, which was a big deal. For 48 hours it was a lot of work to keep the (radio communications) up,” Dawson said. “The American’s (signal strength) was so powerful, it kicked us off. So there were times when we were in and times when we had to work at it. We had to get different frequencies so we weren’t interfering with each other, but we’re talking to each other.

“I’ve enjoyed it, to be fair. I’ve made some friends, and this definitely makes me more prepared to easily integrate with American units in the future.”

One familiar face to Fort Hood, however, was looking forward to the reception he knew the U.K. soldiers would receive.

“It always wonderful to back to ‘The Great Place,’” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Matthew J. Van Wagenen, deputy commander of 3rd U.K. Division.

Van Wagenen is a former commander of 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, and a former deputy “First Team” commander now assigned as a U.S. officer to the British unit.

“What they all tell me is how well they’re treated in Killeen and the local areas, how welcomed they are,” he said. “I know there’s not a single 3rd U.K. soldier who wouldn’t say they’ve enjoyed this, and the U.S. troops I’ve talked to love working with the U.K. soldiers.

“From the 3rd U.K. Division soldiers, we’d like to thank Killeen, Fort Hood and the greater central Texas area for the welcome we’ve had and the hospitality we’ve been treated with.”

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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