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Task Force Gator back to training Ukrainians as battle rages for the Donbas

Troops of the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, known as Task Force Gator at the Joint Multinational Training Group - Ukraine mission. (Photo by Sgt. Spencer Rhodes/Released)

Members of the Florida National Guard unit that was training Ukrainians in the days before Russia invaded are back at it, getting Ukrainian soldiers spun up on the new hardware the U.S. has sent to help them repel Putin’s attack on the Donbas region.

The American soldiers are not in Ukraine, but in Grafenwoehr, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, where they’ve begun training Ukrainians on U.S. artillery.

“We’re taking small groups of Ukrainian soldiers who are already working in those career fields, so for the howitzers, they are already Ukrainian artillerymen,”  said Brig. Gen. Joseph Hilbert,  who leads the 7th Army training command at U.S. European Command.

The National Guard members are on their second group of Ukrainian soldiers to train since the weapons transfers began, Hilbert said.

“We are running them through a streamlined course here on the new equipment that they’ll be receiving. The goal in all of this is to get them back as soon as possible, so that then they can train others within their army on the equipment,” Hilbert said.

A senior defense official said “90 percent” of the 90 155mm Howitzers and 90,000 of the 144,000 rounds the U.S. has pledged to Ukraine have been delivered.

Task Force Gator was sent to Lviv last November as part of a regular rotation of National Guard units from across the U.S. that have worked with the Ukrainians.

“One of the lowest parts of the mission…really was when we had to pull them out of Ukraine, out of the operation back in February,” Hilbert said of the 160 Florida National Guard soldiers who left Lviv in the days before Russia’s invasion. “But probably one of the high points was absolute excitement when we knew we were going to put them back to work, training Ukrainians to do what the Department of the Army, the state of Florida, sent them over here to do.”

Lt. Col. Jeremy “Todd” Hopkins, deputy commander for the Florida National Guard’s 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, said Task Force Gator has seen first-hand Ukraine’s drive to fight.

“A couple of days ago, during one of the lunch breaks, one of the Ukrainian soldiers received word from his hometown that his hometown was being shelled. He and his team immediately stopped with what they were doing and stopped eating their lunch and went back to training knowing that that was how they were going to go back and support their homeland,” Hopkins said.

Both the Ukrainian and U.S. forces have been watching and adapting to what they have seen from Russia, Hilbert said.

“They are learning based off of the behavior they’re seeing and the behavior they expect to see. And then they’re making the adaptations that they need,” Hilbert said.

The U.S. trainers are similarly watching.

“We’re absolutely paying attention to what is happening out there and we’re absolutely incorporating the lessons observed and the lessons that we learned in the part of training that we do, and that’s across the whole force,” Hilbert said.


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