Soldiers assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division had the opportunity to train alongside more than a dozen nations during multiple international exercises in Eastern Europe from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31.
About 800 soldiers, mostly from the division’s 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, participated in the first-of-their-kind, short-notice multinational exercises as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which included multinational combined arms, live-fire exercises, military celebrations and other events.
The deployment challenged the brigade and its planners to effectively transport hundreds of personnel, dozens of heavy vehicles and tons of equipment across the Atlantic, in a limited amount of time.
“We actually got instructions to depart in early August and by Aug. 22 we had all of our equipment at the port,” said Col. John DiGiambattista, “Ironhorse” Brigade commander. “We had to rail load out of Fort Hood, get our equipment on ships and ship it — a fantastic exercise in terms of the flexibility and deploy-ability of the brigade in being able to respond to that requirement.”
Using super cargo container ships, ferries, rail, U.S. Air Force transport aircraft, buses and other modes of transportation, Ironhorse totaled more than 100,000 miles of transport during its move to and from Europe.
Once the unit arrived in Europe and augmented with a troop of Stryker soldiers from the Vilseck, Germany-based 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, the brigade set to work, accomplishing many milestones along the way.
Atlantic Resolve marked the first time U.S. soldiers, in tanks, Bradleys and Strykers, fired rounds in the former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact nations bordering Russia.
“We fired the first M1A2 Abrams main gun rounds ever fired in Latvia as well as the first tank rounds ever fired in Poland by U.S. forces, and it was a tremendous opportunity,” DiGiambattista said.
Ironhorse soldiers traveled more than 38,400 miles and fired nearly 500 M-1 tank rounds; 3,300 25mm rounds; and 200 120mm mortar rounds during their 24 major multinational training events — the largest of which was Operation Iron Sword in Lithuania.
During Iron Sword, soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment and 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment trained alongside infantry units from Canada, Estonia, Hungary and the United Kingdom, an air defense unit from the Czech Republic and reconnaissance units from Luxembourg and Germany, conducting hasty defense and attack maneuvers, dismounted patrols and other missions.
Overall, the Lithuanian Land Forces-hosted NATO exercise involved nearly 2,500 soldiers from nine nations.
“I saw for myself, and I heard from my squadron commanders and soldiers, that working together with you, training together with you, we found this activity extremely beneficial, extremely useful, and that was for us one more chance to prove our skills and be as best prepared for our real job that we must do,” said Maj. Gen. Almantas Leika, commander of the Lithuania Land Forces, in a farewell address to U.S. soldiers Dec. 5.
Sgt. Henry Oforidankwah, a team leader with Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, said the deployment was a special experience.
“I was awarded a Lithuanian commander’s cup for successfully firing a Javelin at a cold target, and for being the first American to fire a Javelin in Lithuania,” Oforidankwah said. “It was the first time for me to shoot a live AT4 or Javelin.”
The deployment provided soldiers more than just a unique training experience.
Ironhorse soldiers also had the opportunity to participate in humanitarian projects.
In Latvia, scouts joined with Latvian soldiers to collect firewood for an orphanage in Vaive on Oct. 28.
“Winters in Latvia are really harsh,” said Spc. Jordan Atchley, a scout and gunner with 2nd Battalion. “We are out here cutting and splitting wood for the orphanage and getting to work in the community.”
The orphanage provides a home for unwanted and disabled children, as well as abused women, who are not able to gather enough firewood to heat the house.
“Projects like this show not only that we are here, but that we are here to help,” Atchley said. “From the everyday things like splitting wood, to bigger projects, to just being here doing what we do.”
Having completed their mission, the Ironhorse commander feels his unit’s involvement in Operation Atlantic Resolve was a success.
Overall, the participation of the Fort Hood troops in Poland and Eastern Europe was significant for the Army, said DiGiambattista.
“It’s a significant increase in U.S. presence to bring in an armored force,” he said. “The brigade was able to demonstrate the ability to rapidly deploy an armored battalion from the United States to Europe on short notice, and I think that that fulfilled the chief of staff’s vision of generating a regionally-aligned and globally-engaged Army.”