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Exercise Allied Spirit II strengthens NATO interoperability, relationships

August 12, 2015

By Staff Sgt. Jerry Boffen, 130th Public Affairs Detachment, Connecticut National Guard

HOHENFELS, Germany (Aug. 12, 2015) -- More than 4,500 participants from eight nations are participating in Exercise Allied Spirit II, which is already underway, at the U.S. Army's Hohenfels Training Area in southeastern Germany.

Participating countries include Canada, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Serbia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This level of participation from so many multinational partners and allies here at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, or JMRC, makes the exercise somewhat unique.

"Allied Spirit II … is the largest multinational exercise we've had here at JMRC probably within the last 10 years," said U.S. Army Maj. Kirk Daniels, planner, JMRC.

In addition to its size, Allied Spirit II, which runs from Aug. 4-24, is unique in terms of the command structure. In this exercise, the Czech Republic Army's 7th Mechanized Brigade commands the brigade headquarters for the first time in a NATO combined exercise. So while the U.S. Army's JMRC is in charge of planning the logistics of the exercise itself, the 7th Czech Brigade is in charge of executing the missions within the exercise.

"The Allied Spirit series is focused on allowing a multinational allied [or] partner brigade to serve as the mission command [element] for the exercise," Daniels said. "We want them to be the brigade headquarters because it forces the interoperability that we're trying to build."

"In addition, it develops more of a feel that's closer to NATO because as we're looking at supporting [operations] for a brigade from our allied nations, this helps establish that structure as well," he added.

Czech Col. Josef Kopecky, commander of the 7th Mechanized Brigade, spoke of the challenges that he expects to face throughout the exercise.

"This is the first time that a Czech brigade combat team will be comprised of elements from other nations," Kopecky said. "This is a challenge for us because of the language, because of the command and control systems and because of the communications systems, but this is necessary to do because being in NATO we should be interoperable."

Participating in multinational exercises at JMRC is hardly new to the Czech troops. Kopecky himself has been a part of several exercises here, so the area is not new to him or many of his soldiers. Their role this time around and the challenges that it presents are new, though.

In the past, the Czechs have sent smaller groups, but always belonged to a higher, or larger, unit and were issued the procedures they had to follow, he said. This time they are responsible for making the brigade work. That means they had to prepare themselves and their procedures before organizing the brigade. Keeping within NATO standards across language and operational barriers presented a challenge.

"That's the challenge for us," Kopecky said, "to set up conditions for everybody inside of the brigade to be on the same sheet of music, to understand each other, to work the same way and to be interoperable."

To overcome these challenges, Kopecky emphasized the benefits of training under the guidance and planning of JMRC, which takes care of most of the logistical support, from providing food and housing, to coordinating use of Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System gear and training sites so that we can just focus on the training, he said.

"JMRC is the U.S.-led unit, which creates the conditions for such an exercise," Kopecky said. "A big advantage of this training site is that it has a great system of evaluation. They check, control, [give] advice, mentor and help us to successfully go through the exercise."

The respect that Kopecky has for JMRC is not a one-way street. Daniels said that the JMRC staff also holds the multinational training units in high regard.

"So far what I've seen, especially from the Czech Republic, is that they are a very professional, very driven organization," Daniels said. "Their staff is very thorough in planning and analysis. Sharing with them is pretty awesome."

"They were chosen because of their capability for integration and their willingness to build upon interoperability and we provide that opportunity," Daniels added. "Looking at the Czechs, they are a very strong entity."

In addition to the 7th Czech Mechanized Brigade and its subordinates being on the same sheet of music operationally, the JMRC staff and all the allies seem to be playing the same tune when it comes to defining mission success.

"Success in this situation is number one, a safe exercise," Daniels said. "Number two is a level of confidence for the brigade team. If the brigade staff feels like they were able to efficiently employ their forces with limited to no degrading, then ultimately we feel like we set the conditions for their ability to continue the relationship going forward."

"I think as well a success to us is that we've developed a foundation," Daniels continued. "The 7th Czech Brigade now has a relationship with the 1st Royal Irish, they now have a relationship with the [U.S. Army's 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment] and now have a relationship with the Georgian battalion that, as the units decide to integrate and they decide to look at future training opportunities, they know that they have a partner to go ahead and reach out to."

The 7th Czech commander defined success in nearly the same way.

"During the planning process we created training objectives for each battalion within our brigade," Kopecky said. "We will try to reach those objectives. Also, success is ensuring interoperability with our NATO partners and allies."

This exercise gives us real-world experience working with other nations, he added, because we must really work through the language barriers and systems - integration challenges and we'll be able to call on that experience going forward.

A big key to achieving that success will be the willingness and drive on the part of each nations units to work together toward those collective goals. This is not a factor that any of them seems to see as an issue.

"I think [all the participants] are eager for the relationship establishment," Daniels said. "We realize that whether it's peacekeeping missions or combat operations it seems like we now focus on how we integrate NATO and U.N. forces collectively into standard missions across the board. We're setting the conditions so that now our units can link with our allies in NATO missions wherever they're sending them around the globe."

Kopecky was equally confident in the willingness and capabilities of not only his own Czech units but of all the units involved.

"I have to say we are a very good brigade," Kopecky said. "In the Czech environment with Czech troops and Czech units I am very confident that the brigade will meet all of the requirements it needs to meet."

"Here in the international environment with units from other nations it's more challenging for us," he added, "but as I have already talked to battalion commanders from other nations, they are eager to be here, happy to be inside of the Czech brigade and ready to do all that they can for us and this exercise so it gives me confidence that they brought themselves here with the mindset that they will do the proper things and they're ready for it. From the brigade mindset, we are not here to disturb that and we're not here to fail."

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