Operation Atlantic Resolve jumpstarts Europe's regional alignment

Monday, December 01, 2014

Maj. James Howell of the 173rd Airborne Brigade put it this way: Expecting the unexpected is in every American soldier’s job description.

Howell, operations officer, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, spoke on readiness in the context of Operation Atlantic Resolve during a talk in Washington.

The talk was held as part of the Warriors Corner series, hosted by the U.S. Army during the 2014 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

Howell reflected on the deployment of an Army Contingency Response Force (ACRF) out of the 173rd to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Howell said the operation was focused on reassuring the collective defense of the United States’ NATO allies "and, candidly, reassuring them that they weren’t going to become the next Ukraine."

He said that the brigade got its first warning order from the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) on April 17 advising the unit "to be prepared to deploy a force to Poland and either one or all three of the Baltic States."

The advance heads-up (versus the ACRF’s perennial 18-hour-deployment preparedness) allowed for better internal and host-nation preparation.

The ACRF was essentially charged with jumpstarting regional alignment in Europe before the 1st Brigade, 1st Calvary Division, took over.

Howell said he lacked a true appreciation for the operation’s scale and impact until after he arrived on the ground. The deployment focused on collective training with the militaries of NATO allies in the Baltic states.

Sgt. 1st Class Stuart N. Sword outlined the effectiveness of this group training, which was meant to foster both unity and a collective understanding of the militaries’ methods, weapons and capabilities.

At the talk’s conclusion, Howell shared three major lessons learned from the force’s Operation Atlantic Resolve deployment.

First, he said, "Readiness matters."

Trying to predict the kind of mission you’re going to get isn’t realistic, said Howell. Rather than trying to be psychic, Howell said that preparing yourself to function in an unfamiliar operating environment and educating yourself about it as much as possible is crucial for effectiveness as a soldier.

The second takeaway – A clear mission command is crucial to operational success.

According to Howell, a clear understanding of the mission commander’s intent on the part of junior leaders, NCOs and commanders was essential to quickly establish a strong working knowledge of their operating environment.

"Clear left-and-right limits" allowed the force to "go out and coordinate and do some pretty amazing things at levels that are much higher than are typically expected of those type of leaders," he noted.

Finally, Howell said, "Relationships absolutely matter."

"Because of those personal relationships at operational and strategic levels, because of the relationships that you establish at the tactical level while training together – by learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses, by really getting at the interoperability – you’re able to build a strong organization, an effective organization," Howell said.

He added the trust spawned from these relationships empowers troops with the credibility and mobility needed to carry out their duties to the U.S. and/or NATO.

The take-home message?

"You can’t surge trust," Howell said. "It’s absolutely got to be built through repetition and continued credibility."