1st Cavalry Division troops rotate for Operation Atlantic Resolve
Soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division and later replacement units will rotate to locations in Eastern Europe through the end of next year as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, and those rotations could continue even longer into the foreseeable future, said the commander of U.S. Army Europe
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges recently spoke to reporters at the Pentagon from Vilnius, Lithuania, via a video teleconference.
The rotations – part of the Army’s regionally aligned forces concept – are taking place in Eastern Europe to provide "important assurance" to NATO allies of U.S. commitment and "deterrence to Russian aggression," Hodges said.
Also, the presence of U.S. forces in Eastern Europe will ensure a more rapid response, should aggression occur, he added.
Since the U.S. no longer has a massive military presence in West Germany, as it did during the Cold War, Hodges said the current strategy is to provide "forward-stationed forces" with a "rapid response" capability.
The strategy also relies on training with local NATO forces.
The other part of the strategy is to pre-position equipment in Eastern Europe. While there are logistical assets already in Germany, the idea is to eventually move a heavy brigade combat team with its tanks and Bradley vehicles to an area farther east, such as Poland, Romania or one of the Baltic countries, he said.
The Defense and State departments, as well as NATO countries, are now discussing the location, he noted.
Although "the footprint in Europe is much smaller than it used to be, we can still provide the needed capabilities," Hodges said, adding that he’s hopeful that overseas contingency operations money will be approved for all of the necessary expenses that come with ramping up Operation Atlantic Resolve.
Two reasons for optimism
The reason for optimism is two-fold, he said.
First, the U.S. has committed to a strategy to defend Eastern Europe’s NATO countries through the European Reassurance Initiative. Second, NATO itself is now on board.
"I’ve never seen the NATO alliance more unified than coming out of the [September] summit in Wales," Hodges said, explaining that the heads of NATO nations "recognized Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its illegal activities inside eastern Ukraine."
Hodges said he believes that with NATO resolve, Russia would not dare to engage in a conventional attack. Rather, he said, they would try to stir up ethic Russians, as they did in Ukraine, or intimidate nations, as they tried to do in Lithuania.
At the end of the Cold War, when Lithuania gained its independence, some 70,000 Lithuanian soldiers who were drafted by the Russian government didn’t report for duty because their country had become a sovereign nation.
Russia’s government issued extradition orders, declaring those soldiers to be fugitives or draft dodgers, he said.
That NATO agreed to sanctions against Russia and declared its resolve against the aggression is all the more impressive, Hodges said, because not all of the 28 NATO allies agree that Russia is the No. 1 threat the alliance faces. For example, some southern NATO countries see illegal immigration from North Africa as the bigger threat, and Turkey looks across its border at Iraq and Syria and sees the trouble there as its chief concern.
That the U.S. Army is committed to standing alongside its European allies is reflected in a new slogan: "Strong Europe," which is a take on the "Army Strong" slogan, Hodges said.
The strength of the Army is its dedicated soldiers and their leaders, he said, many of whom spent Thanksgiving in Eastern Europe.
"I’m extremely proud of them," he said, noting that spent time with soldiers of the 1st Cavalry Division, in Lithuania. Later, he said, he visited soldiers in Estonia and Poland.
Hodges said the United States and NATO will not be intimidated by Russian aggression, and that any aggression will be met with a firm and rapid response.
He noted that a few months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "We can be in Vilnius in two days."
Adding, "Well, I got here in three hours, coming from Wiesbaden," Germany.