Troops and tanks from Texas and choppers from Colorado fought a mock battle in a freezing, muddy German forest on Tuesday, alongside units from 15 allies and partner nations, including Ukraine.
More than 5,500 soldiers took part in the two-week-long mock combat portion of Combined Resolve XI, the Army’s culminating event for tank and aviation units on nine-month rotations in Europe. The soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, based in Fort Carson, Colo., and 1st Cavalry Division’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Hood, Texas, will be wrapping up their rotations to Europe next year.
Alongside the Americans in the wet and cold were armored units from Ukraine. The exercise comes amid heightened tensions along the Ukrainian-Russian border, after Russia fired on and seized several Ukrainian ships last month in the Sea of Azov.
The U.S. began its nine-month armor deployments to Europe in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The rotational armored and aviation brigades are part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States commitment to deter possible Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
“The rotational deployments of armored brigade combat teams are a tangible expression of U.S. commitment to strengthening the defensive and deterrent capabilities of the NATO alliance,” the Army said in a statement on the exercise.
The rotational units faced a notional enemy made up of U.S. and Albanian troops as near-constant rains turned swaths of land into fields of sticky sludge for them to maneuver through. A brief look down confirmed that not a single soldier made it without plunging his boots into the mire.
The vehicles didn’t fare much better.
Tanks generally moved through the muck more easily, but many Humvees and smaller vehicles got stuck, making easy targets for the opposition forces launching surprise attacks.
The soldiers used drones and helicopters to scout enemy positions and minimize the effects of any ambush, while attack helicopters and tanks took out exposed enemy targets.
The rotational units are meant to provide a strong foundation for U.S. security efforts in the region.
“The forward presence of U.S. soldiers is the bedrock of our country’s ability to assure allies, deter adversaries and react in a timely manner if deterrence fails,” the Army statement said.
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