HOHENFELS, Germany- Naval Special Warfare operators from U.S. Special Operations Command along with NATO Special Operations Forces from Albania, Bulgaria and Lithuania partnered with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Cavalry Regiment during Saber Junction 17 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany April 25-May 19, 2017.
The exercise was 2CR’s brigade-level validation exercise designed to prepare the unit for combat operations in the complex European theater of operations.
“The SOF cell at JMRC brought in a multinational Special Operations Task Group to train with 2CR,” said U.S. Army Maj. Robert Temple, JMRC SOF cell officer-in-charge. “Our goal is to create a SOF training environment that provides realistic operational scenarios as well as opportunities to build relationships with SOF elements.”
One of these elements was a U.S.-based SOF team comprised of Navy SEALs. The team worked closely with 2CR during the exercise which included embedding a liaison officer with the unit.
“We learned what SOF can contribute and they certainly learned what our challenges are,” said Col. Patrick Ellis, 2CR Commander. “They put a liaison chief petty officer in the tactical operations center and he greatly contributed to the understanding of what they can do.”
In a simulated European village, forward of 2CR’s position, the U.S. SOF team surveilled the enemy from a rooftop.
The SOF platoon commander discussed how the covert nature of his team’s operation aided in their intelligence collection capabilities.
“Our ability to conduct close area reconnaissance and low-visibility operations has provided 2CR a great resource to fill their intelligence gaps,” said the commander.
The SOF team also contributed to 2CR’s ability to coordinate fires according to Lt. Col. Thurman McKenzie, 2CR’s Field Artillery Squadron Commander and Regimental Fire Support Coordinator.
“In a high-intensity, conventional conflict, SOF are able to identify and trigger the engagement of targets, often deep behind enemy lines,” said McKenzie, whose 155mm M777 howitzers have the ability to deliver precision and conventional munitions.
The coordination and integration of these surface-to-surface fires was a unique training opportunity for the SOF team.
“There are nuances that come inherent with artillery as opposed to close air support,” said the SOF commander. “The training provides better situational awareness for ground force commanders and the fires community alike.”
Having spent time in the SOF community including a rotation with a SOF element at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, Ellis saw the value of the integration efforts.
“The SOF Team did a great job down here,” said Ellis. “They were heavily integrated and leaned forward.”
In addition to the integration of U.S. SOF forces, a simulated resistance force was introduced into the exercise through the use of the Lithuanian National Volunteer Defense Force.
According to Temple, exercising the capabilities of a unit trained to fight as a resistance force is very unique and the first time he’s ever seen this scenario employed.
“We are meeting the LNVDF’s training objectives by exercising their small unit tactics in non-permissive environments,” said Temple. “We are also meeting our own objectives by training with the LNVDF and learning how to work with a resistance force.”
Living in a simulated village, behind enemy lines, the Lithuanians operated in civilian clothes while living side-by-side with civilian role-players.
“When we arrived here at JMRC, we quickly assimilated within the simulated training environment,” said a sharpshooter with the LNVDF. “By day two, we had integrated fully into the village and began training closely with the Bulgarian SOF Team.”
The sharpshooter discussed some of the training objectives his unit worked towards during the exercise.
“The most important things we’ve learned from this exercise were tactical and technical insights from each nation’s SOF forces,” the sharpshooter said. “We’ve also learned how to effectively react in high-stress, tactical environments.”
Facilitating SOF interdependence, interoperability and integration is something the SOF cell at JMRC ensures is embedded deeply in every rotation that comes through the facility.
According to Temple, The SOF Cell works to meet JMRC and Special Operations Command Europe’s objectives for SOF and Conventional Forces integration in a high-intensity conflict environment.
Temple discussed how the SOF cell supports SOTGs and task units to develop their capabilities in the full spectrum of special operations alongside a live brigade and division headquarters in a realistic joint task force training environment.
“We often assume everyone is going to work perfectly together should open conflict arise,” said Temple. “But finding those interoperability challenges will only happen if we bring the actual aligned units together and let them work their issues out independently.”
The SOTG supervising SOF operations during the exercise was commanded by the Bulgarian 1st Battalion, 68th Special Forces Brigade. The Bulgarian SOTG at Saber Guardian 17 is the supporting SOTG for the NATO Response Force for 2017.
The exercise featured approximately 4,500 participants from 12 allied and Partnership for Peace nations, including Georgia, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.