Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea and its backing of Ukrainian separatists are deliberate attempts to tear NATO and the European Union apart, the commander of Army Europe told attendees at a special presentation during the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington.
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said the "Snap Exercises" that Russia has been conducting on its borders with Ukraine and the Baltic states demonstrate the country’s "ability to move a lot of people quickly" from place to place and threaten members of the alliance.
"The key is to have the capability and demonstrate that capability" to counter Russian aggression," Hodges said.
He cited the 51 battalion or larger-sized exercises that Army Europe conducted with allied forces last year – from the Baltic to Bulgaria – as a means of doing that.
Hodges said another way to demonstrate capability is to empower junior leaders.
Command Sgt. Maj. Cheryl Lyon said, "We consider USAREUR a leadership lab."
She also said with only 30,000 soldiers permanently assigned to Europe, a first sergeant or captain is often the first American service member foreign nationals encounter.
The interchange among these junior leaders, ambassadors and other diplomats, local officials and citizens "allows [the soldiers] to become confident in what they can do."
Maj. Gen. Duane Gamble, 21st Theater Sustainment commander, said, "We do need to amplify that support" from the Army National Guard and Army Reserve to Europe. He said about 75 percent of sustainment, including engineers to build ranges and staff elements, is in the reserve component.
"We are obligated to set the theater and open the theater" for additional forces to arrive in times of crisis, Gamble said.
Brig. Gen. Markus Laubenthal, the first German officer to serve as chief of staff of U.S. Army Europe, said that to deter further Russian aggression, allies need to be interoperable.
While the U.S has no heavy equipment tank transports in Europe, several NATO allies do.
The same is true with bridges capable of carrying M1A2 tanks.
"We will never fight alone," Laubenthal said.
The 4th Infantry Division provides a mission control element to Army Europe, Maj. Gen. Ryan Gonsalves said. The element has about 100 soldiers assigned to it, with 25 to 30 of those soldiers in intelligence.
"We’re trying to get some Russian linguists" and G-3s [operations] from home station,"
Gonsalves that about a third of the element is in Europe for six months at a time while the rest are present for four months.
How long the 4th ID will be able to sustain the element is unclear, he said. Another division would then be tasked by Forces Command to provide the control unit.
"The Army is way too small," Hodges said, noting that it will be drawing down to an active force of 450,000.
Adding, "You can’t undo those cuts." By comparison, in the recent past, 300,000 soldiers were assigned to Europe, he said.
To provide money for large-scale training exercises, Hodges can draw funds from a special contingency fund. "Base budget will not cover anything I just described."
The next NATO summit meeting is scheduled for July in Warsaw to review the alliance’s strategy and policies concerning Russia and the continuing migrant crisis.
"The most important thing at Warsaw [is] we stay the course," Hodges said.