WASHINGTON — The US Army's first heel-to-toe rotational heavy armored brigade combat team (ABCT) is set to reach Europe in January as part of a US military buildup in the region to reassure allies and deter against an aggressive Russia, the service's commander in Europe said.
The 3rd Brigade of the 4th Division out of Fort Carson, Colorado, will start loading ships in the coming weeks and is scheduled to arrive in the port of Bremerhaven, Germany, in the middle of January, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said in an interview with Defense News at annual Association of the United States Army conference.
Once in port, the brigade will undergo a readiness test to see how fast it can unload the ships and get to western Poland. Hodges predicted unloading the ship would not be the challenging part, but rather working to move equipment by rail and highway from a single port.
The ABCT that will rotate in to replace the first one in September 2017 will likely sail into several ports to test its ability to unload and come together in another designated point, Hodges noted.
Based on several factors — from exercising a mission it hasn’t had to do in a very long time to moving equipment via rail and highway to dealing with winter weather in Northern Europe — Hodges predicts the ABCT will reach Polish assembly areas near Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in roughly three weeks.
"I’m going to make all kinds of mistakes on this," Hodges said, even though the Army has been rehearsing and drilling. "We haven’t done it in a long time."
This exercise to move from the German port to Poland was tasked by Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the supreme allied commander in Europe, in order to demonstrate speed of assembly, Hodges noted.
Once the ABCT has assembled and prepared its equipment, such as loading ammunition, testing communications and camouflaging, in order to set up its posture "like a crisis response rehearsal," Hodges said, the brigade will disperse to areas of responsibility aligned with the Atlantic Resolve mission.
Atlantic Resolve is the framework for the US mission to assure allies in Europe and deter Russia through exercises and operations.
One battalion will head to the Baltic region — Atlantic Resolve North — while another battalion will deploy to Romania and Bulgaria — Atlantic Resolve South — according to Hodges.
The bulk of the combat team will remain in Poland, staying in Polish barracks at training areas where some of the best ranges and maintenance facilities are situated, such as Drawsko Pomorskie, he said.
Over the course of the rotation, the ABCT will mass "a couple of times," Hodges added.
While Poland’s national exercise Anakonda is held every other year and therefore will not be held in 2017, Hodge’s command has helped to coordinate opportunities for the ABCT to heavily participate in Saber Guardian, which will take place in July in Bulgaria and Romania. The exercise will consist of more than 30,000 soldiers with 20-plus nations, making it similar in size to Anakonda. The 82nd Airborne, the US Army’s global response force, will jump in like it did in Anakonda. Saber Guardian will also be linked to Sea Breeze — a maritime exercise in the Black Sea — and Noble Partner in Georgia.
The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas, will replace the first ABCT in September, Hodges said.
The commander said even though the Army is having to operate under a continuing resolutionfor the next three months, which means money is only available at 2016 funding levels, there would be enough money to move forward with the deployment of the first ABCT.
Army Secretary Eric Fanning told Defense News in an interview before AUSA that he was concerned over the impact the continuing resolution might have on the Pentagon’s special funding for assurance and deterrence in Europe, called the European Reassurance Initiative.
"ERI is oxygen for us," Hodges said. "Without the ERI money, there is no rotation of forces, there’s no buildup of Army pre-positioned stock. In other words, there is no real capable deterrent force above and beyond what we have on the ground now … it’s essential to what we are doing."