Special Briefing via Telephone with Brigadier General Sean Bernabe on DEFENDER 2020

Special Briefing via Telephone

Brigadier General Sean Bernabe

Deputy Chief of Staff, G3, U.S. Army Europe


Moderator:  Greetings to everyone from the U.S.-European Media Hub in Brussels.  I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from around the world and thank all of you for joining this discussion.

Today we are pleased to be joined by Brigadier General Sean Bernabe, Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Europe.  Thank you, Brigadier General Bernabe, for taking the time to speak with us today.

We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from the General, and then we will turn to your questions.

As a reminder, today’s call is on the record.  With that, I will turn it over to Brigadier General Bernabe for his opening remarks.

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Well, thank you and good afternoon, everyone.  Again, my name is Sean Bernabe.  I am the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations for United States Army Europe.  As such, I oversee operations, training, and exercises for United States Army Europe.  I’m here today to answer your questions about the upcoming exercise Defender-Europe 20.  I assume you all are somewhat familiar with the exercise; let me just emphasize a few points up front.

The exercise Defender-Europe 20 is a Headquarters, Department of the Army-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led exercise designed to build strategic readiness for the United States Army.  Defender-Europe 20 will bring 20,000 U.S. Army soldiers with their assigned equipment from the United States to Europe, and then move those soldiers to training areas throughout Europe to participate in other, smaller exercises.  These other exercises have names you may recognize – for example, exercise Swift Response, the annual exercise featuring multinational parachute operations across Europe; or exercise Saber Strike, the biannual exercise featuring ground maneuver in Poland and the Baltic states; exercise Allied Spirit, focused on interoperability at the brigade level and below between allies and partners; or exercise Dynamic Front, the annual exercise designed to improve interoperability between allied and partner artillery units.

Of course, once these smaller exercises are complete, Defender-Europe 20 will redeploy those 20,000 U.S. forces back to the United States to prepare for their next mission. Thank you again for your participation today.  I’d be happy to take your questions.

Moderator:  Thank you very much for those remarks, General Bernabe.  We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.

So our first question is a question that we received in advance, from Magdalena Miernicka from web portal Polska in Poland:  What kind of task will be expected of the U.S. Army in Poland?  Are American soldiers who stay in Poland going to be part of the Defender exercise?  Is the U.S. Army going to also cooperate with Polish soldiers and units?  What kind of operations are you going to perform?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  So thank you for your question.  I will tell you that Poland will be one of the epicenters of one of those smaller, linked exercises I mentioned – in this case, exercise Allied Spirit.  Allied Spirit features a live wet gap crossing, so in other words a river crossing, that will take place at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in northwestern Poland.  This will be a division-size exercise led by the United States Army 1st Cavalry Division, but with multinational participants, including the 12th Mech. from Poland and the 9th Mech. from Poland.  The 12th Mech. will serve as the assault force for the river crossing; the 9th Mech. will actually serve as the opposition force, providing a tough, realistic enemy force to practice against.

Additionally, we’ll see – U.S. forces will see a multinational bridge company featuring German and British bridging capabilities, and then several enablers, to include fixed-wing and rotary-wing support from allies such as the Czech Republic and the United States.

You asked a question about the rotational armored brigade combat team forces.  So yes, some of those forces will participate in not only Allied Spirit – that wet gap crossing in Poland – but will also participate in another, smaller exercise, Saber Strike, near the Suwalki gap, as they practice moving from Poland into Lithuania.

Of course, we’ll have support personnel and support units from many nations, to include the United States and Poland – altogether about 20,000 U.S. forces in Poland.  I also know that Poland has a national exercise occurring simultaneously.  That exercise is Anakonda.  I’m sure many of you are very familiar with that annual exercise.  And then U.S. Air Forces Europe also has an exercise, Astral Knight, that will occur in Poland at the same time.

So once again, Poland will be a large epicenter of exercise activity in the spring of 2020.

Moderator:  Thank you very much, General. Our next question comes to us from Nicholas Fiorenza with Jane’s Defence Weekly.  Please go ahead.

Question:  Hello, General.  I had a couple of questions to make, follow-ups in fact.  First of all, is the divisional – U.S. divisional headquarters, which is eventually going to be based in the headquarters forward that’s going to be based in Poland, is that participating in the exercise?  Do we know what the designation is yet?  As far as the Anglo-German bridging unit is concerned, is that the first time they’re operating, they’re building a bridge together in an exercise like this?  And then the final question is how does this all tie into the NATO’s Readiness Initiative, which was approved by NATO leaders last week?  I mean, would the Readiness Initiative even be achievable without U.S. forces?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Okay, thank you for those questions.  So first of all, yes, the next division headquarters forward has been designated, and that will in fact be the 1st Cavalry Division, and yes, they are participating in not only the command post exercise, the Joint Warfighting Assessment at Grafenwoehr, Germany, but they will also again command and control the live river crossing in Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland.  So yes, they will conduct those two smaller exercises and then, shortly thereafter, assume the mission as the division headquarters forward based in Poznan, Poland.

You asked a question about the multinational, multirole bridge company.  I don’t know that – I don’t think this is their first time operating together.  I do know we executed a live wet gap crossing as a part of Saber Guardian 19 across the Danube River in Romania, and we did have multinational bridging capability there.  So we have executed multinational river crossings.  There it was Romanian capability with U.S. capability.  Nonetheless, it is a great exercise to build our interoperability at that tactical level.

How does all this tie to the NATO Readiness Initiative?  No direct tie, but I will tell you we are not only building strategic readiness by moving these 20,000 forces from the continental United States to Europe and then moving them across the continent to training areas, but then we’re also building tactical readiness with every one of these smaller exercises.  As we build that tactical readiness, as we give all of these units a chance to practice tactical tasks, and as we allow some of the key headquarters from the NATO force structure – for example, the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, or Multinational Corps Northeast – as we allow them to practice commanding and controlling large-scale ground combat operations in simulation or in microcosm live exercises, we are certainly building readiness for NATO as a whole.

Hopefully I’ve answered your questions.

Moderator:  Thank you very much for that.  Our next question comes from Andrei Sitov with the TASS News Agency.  Please go ahead.

Question:  Hi.  Thank you, General, for doing the briefing.  Could you talk a little bit about the part of the exercise that will be taking place in Georgia?  And also, is any part of the exercise directed against – specifically against Russia?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Yes, thank you for the questions.  Yes, thank you.  So I mentioned the smaller exercises.  One of those is the annual exercise Swift Response, which always features multinational airborne operations into various parts of Europe.  The current plan would actually – would put some airborne forces into Georgia for an airborne assault.  Again, that’s the current plan.  We’re still finalizing the plans for Swift Response 20.

I will tell you that in general, Defender 20 and the other smaller exercises I mentioned are not in response to anything in particular.  Overall, the main focus is to build strategic readiness, to practice moving large forces from the United States to Europe, and then to practice moving those forces across Europe to training areas, and then to give those forces a chance to build interoperability with NATO allies and partners and to build tactical readiness.

So, again, none of these exercises are in response to anything in particular.  They’re all about building readiness at the strategic and the tactical level.  Thank you.

Moderator:  Thank you very much for that.  Our next question comes from Kai Laufen with Südwestrundfunk in Germany.

Question:  Yes, hello.  I understand that the level command post will be established in Grafenwoehr, in Bavaria, but I assume that normally, or for the rest of the year, large exercises in the south of Germany will not be so much involved, more the north.  Is that correct?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Thank you for the question.  That’s – that is an accurate description.  Yes, we will – we will have several forces, I think in about the neighborhood of 8,000 soldiers, in the Grafenwoehr area, primarily participating in the command post exercise known as the Joint Warfirghting Assessment.  Besides that, the live training that we’ll see will happen in the Bergen-Hohne Training Area in northern Germany.  There you will see the 116th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which is a National Guard armored brigade combat team out of the U.S. state of Idaho.  They will draw prepositioned equipment and they will execute live-fire training up to and including combined company live-fire exercises.  And again, that’ll be the live training you will see in northern Germany.

Other than those two events, Germany will see the transit of convoys moving from the seaports to the training areas in Poland or in the Baltic states, and will likely – we’ll also see the arrival of forces into airports and then the movement of those forces by ground convoy or by bus to those training areas.  But your description of the locality of the training is accurate.  A large number in the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels area, another number up in the northern part in the Bergen-Hohne area, and then just besides that, the transiting of forces across Germany. Thank you for your question.

Moderator:  Thank you, General.  Our next question comes from Jouko Juonala, Newspaper Ilta-Sanomat in Finland.

Question:  Yes.  Hello, General.  I appreciate you taking our questions.  Finland is listed as a participant in the Defender-Europe exercise.  How would you assess Finland’s role in the exercise and Finnish defense forces as a partner of the U.S. military?  Thank you.

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Yes, thank you for your question.  And yes, on the initial or the early versions of the concept slides for Defender-Europe 20, Finland was shown as a participant.  They are actually not participating directly in Defender-Europe 20, according to the current concept.  They do have plans to participate in a very small way in Saber Strike, exercise Saber Strike, providing a platoon, as I recall, in the Lithuania portion of that exercise.  And then they also will provide an artillery element to participate in Dynamic Front, the command post exercise in Grafenwoehr.  But again, not participating directly in Defender-Europe 20.  They were a part of the initial concept, but since then have decided not to be a participant.  Hopefully that answers your question.

Moderator:  Thank you for that clarification, General.  Our next question comes to us from Gina Cavallaro with Army Magazine.

Question:  Good afternoon.  General Bernabe, what is the hardest aspect of moving 20,000 troops and equipment overseas?  Also, what is the easiest aspect of it?  And why is it important to state and to also show a deliberate departure from Europe at the end of the exercises?  Thank you.

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Thank you for your question.  I’ll tell you, I don’t think there’s anything easy about moving 20,000 forces from the United States to Europe.  It’ll be a heavy lift, if you will, a tall task for everybody involved, and that’s why we started planning this months ago.  That’s why the entire Army enterprise – frankly, the entire joint enterprise on the United States side – is completely engaged in this.  And frankly, our allies here on the continent are well postured as well to receive those forces at the four ports, seaports, of debarkation, and then to move them by convoy, by rail, by line haul, by bus across the continent rapidly and expeditiously.

So it’ll be difficult, but I can’t say enough about the work our allies and partners have done and are doing to make sure that this goes smoothly.

Moderator:  Great.  Thank you very much, General.  Our next question comes to us from Rafal Lesiecki.  Please go ahead, sir.

Question:  Hello.  My name is Rafal Lesiecki and I’m from Poland, from TVN24.pl.  I would like to ask again a question:  Why this exercise is so important for the U.S. Army and NATO?  I think you – try to explain it to the people.  Thank you very much.

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Okay, thank you for the question.  Why is this so important?  Again, it’s about building strategic readiness.  For the last several years, the U.S. Army in particular has focused on building tactical readiness, and frankly, we’ve done a lot of great work on improving the tactical readiness of our forces throughout the Army in all three components: the regular Army, the National Guard, and the Reserves.  And we’ve realized that now is the time to focus once again on strategic readiness, building that strategic readiness – the ability to project those ready tactical units across distance to a point of need.  And again, that’s the primary purpose of exercise Defender-Europe 20 is to practice projecting 20,000 forces from the United States to Europe.  And then, of course, I think it’s important that we validate the infrastructure in Europe, our procedures and policies in Europe, to be able to move those forces quickly, efficiently, expeditiously to a point of need on the continent.

So yes, I think it’s – it is very important for those reasons, and as always, every time we train here in Europe, we’re building our interoperability as an alliance, and we’ll have a chance to do that, to build that interoperability, at the theater level as we practice moving those forces across the continent, and then also at the tactical level as we practice river crossings, as we practice multinational airborne operations, as we practice maneuvering forces in the – through the Suwalki gap and in the Baltic states.

So yes, I think it is very important for all those reasons.  Thank you for your question.

Moderator:  Thank you, General.  Our next question comes to us from Dorothee Frank with European Security & Defence in Germany.

Question:  Hello, thank you.  Well, I’d like you to tell me a little bit more about the transit ways, the infrastructure used for moving those forces around, and what forces will conduct the logistics.  Thank you.

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Thank you for those questions.  I will tell you that we are finalizing the details of the transit plan from the seaports to the training areas, for example.  But in general, we have four main avenues moving from those ports to the various training areas in Germany and Poland.  We are coordinating those with the local authorities and, in fact, we’ll very much appreciate the assistance that the local authorities will provide in escorting wheeled convoys, for example, across those routes and then especially through the most congested parts of those routes.  One key note, I think, is that we’re planning those movements for nighttime to minimize the friction that those movements could cause for normal civilian traffic.

Of course, there’ll be several rail lines that we’ll use to move heavy equipment from ports to training areas, and frankly, I am not the expert to talk about which of those rail lines we’ll use.  But again, we are currently coordinating and will continue to coordinate with all the host nation transportation authorities to make sure that we have a smooth movement of all those forces across the continent.

You asked the question of who’s providing logistic support for all these troops.  It’s really a combination of units and forces.  Certainly, the United States Army Europe will provide much of that support.  Among the 20,000 forces coming from the continental United States are logistics units.  And so, for example, the 1st Cavalry Division is deploying its sustainment brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to help provide command and control of all the sustainment forces that will fuel and feed and maintain the equipment of all these forces training in Europe for the spring.

Certainly, our allies and partners will deploy some of their sustainment capacity to enable the support of these forces in the field.  We will contract some support in some places.  Probably in most situations some of the live support, especially as units arrive in the theater, as they prepare to depart, we’ll tend to provide some live support areas for them to use as they prepare to convoy across the continent, for example.

So the sustainment is absolutely a multinational effort that’ll be commanded and controlled by the 21st Theater Sustainment Command, which is at U.S. Army Europe Headquarters under the command of a two-star U.S. general.

Thank you for your questions.

Moderator:  Great.  I think we have time for one final question, and that’ll be from Jonathan Beale with the BBC.

Question:  Hi there, General.  Yeah, just getting back to logistics, can you just tell us – you’re saying 20,000 troops, but what equipment will they be bringing with them?  And I assume that you’re using a mode of trans – a number of modes of transport to cross the Atlantic, that you’re going to use aircraft and you mentioned seaports, obviously early kits coming in by sea.  And then how long will that all take to move all the stuff over?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  Great, thanks for your questions.  And here I am, the operations officer for U.S. Army Europe, and I do spend much of my time focused on the logistics of this operation.

Types of equipment:  So those 20,000 forces will bring their assigned equipment, with one exception.  I mentioned the 116th Armored Brigade Combat Team of the Idaho Army National Guard.  This armored brigade combat team will actually draw equipment from the Army prepositions stocks here in Europe.  So they will draw M1 tanks and M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Paladin howitzers from our stockages here in Europe.  That is a training objective for Defender-Europe 20 is to practice the issuing of that equipment.

But the other brigades that are coming – for example, the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division coming from Fort Stewart, Georgia, will deploy its own organic equipment.  It will put its tanks and its Bradley Fighting Vehicles and its howitzers on a ship in Savannah, and move that across the Atlantic by ship to be offloaded at Bremerhaven, Germany.  Some of its equipment will come by military airlift, but that’s a very small portion.  For example, its high-end communication equipment will likely come that way.  And then its personnel, that brigade’s personnel, will move by air, most likely contract air, into an airport and they’ll land in an airport in close proximity to the seaport so that those soldiers can then marry up with their heavy equipment and then continue to move that equipment across the continent.

So that’s the general scheme of how the equipment will move across.  How long will it take?  We’ll start moving some of those forces as early as February.  With the case of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division, for example, they’ll move into Poland a little bit ahead of the exercise to do some great training, some great live-fire training at the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area before that exercise, Allied Spirit, kicks off.  And so they’ll be among the first to move, but we’ll be moving forces from February until April.  We’ll take a short hiatus over the Easter holiday just to keep those forces off the highways.  And then about mid-April we’ll be in high swing for the live – those smaller live exercises I mentioned in the beginning.

So that’s an overarching picture of the movement of the equipment to set conditions for Defender-Europe 20.  Thank you for your questions.

Moderator:  Thank you very much.  Unfortunately, that was the last question we have time for.  General Bernabe, do you have any closing words you’d like to offer?

Brigadier General Bernabe:  First, I appreciate everybody’s interest in this large exercise, Defender-Europe 20.  It is the largest deployment of U.S. forces to Europe in 25 years, and so certainly it has a lot of attention, and again, thank you for your interest.

The journalist from Army Magazine asked a question:  Why is it so important to emphasize the redeployment of forces back to CONUS?  And I’ll just end by saying, as always, we want to make sure that we train those soldiers hard, that they build that tactical readiness, and then we get them back to the continental United States so they can prepare for that next mission whenever it may be.  That’s our charter for the Army at large, for the enterprise at large, and so we’ll maintain our focus on getting those forces back to the continental United States as quickly as we can after all of these – all this great training is complete in Europe.

So again, I thank you for your interest and thank you for the chance to answer your questions today.

Moderator:  Thank you very much, General.  I’d like to thank Brigadier General Bernabe for joining us and thank all the reporters on the line for your participation and for your questions.