The Big Red One 2022 Europe Deployment
by U.S. Army Spc. Charles Leitner
December 30, 2022
When Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division (1 ID) look back on their 2022 deployment in Europe, what will they remember of their time there?
Since their arrival in February of 2022, the division has seen a steady stream of Soldiers rotating through Europe to support Allies and partners by improving capacity, capability and interoperability so as to fight alongside a diverse range of units if needed. The units operationally assigned to the 1 ID under V Corps, America’s forward deployed corps in Europe, trained alongside armed forces elements from Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden.
U.S. Soldiers move across the Vistula river during a wet-gap crossing operation as part of Defender Europe 22 held at Dęblin, Poland, May 13, 2022. Defender Europe 2022 is a series of U.S. Army Europe and Africa multinational training exercises in Eastern Europe. The exercise demonstrates U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s ability to conduct large-scale ground combat operations across multiple theaters supporting NATO. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Agustín Montañez)
Maj. Gen. John V. Meyer III, commander of the 1 ID, has often asked Soldiers working in Europe ... what it means to be interoperable.
The 1 ID deployment in Europe has in many regards been about developing stronger communication efforts between Allied units. Throughout their deployment, Soldiers have had the opportunity to improve readiness and develop warfighting tasks. Though nearly a dozen languages were spoken amongst allied forces, there existed a common understanding of the present goal at hand.
“We’re here to defend with our NATO allies,” said Meyer. “We appreciate you joining the Big Red One, we appreciate you joining our team.”
When the first round of Soldiers assigned to the 1 ID arrived most were expecting a six month deployment. Although the invasion of Ukraine at the start of the year extended the timeline of the division’s rotation, their mission remained the same.
“We took an oath to support and defend the ideals of our country,” said Meyer during a transfer of authority ceremony in Zagan, Poland. “Those ideals are the framework that sets our country apart and then our country asked us to come to Europe.”
As soon as 1 ID boots touched European soil, a string of notable events followed. There was Defender 22, when units working alongside the Big Red One conducted one of the largest land exercises in Europe, showcasing their ability to cross streams and rivers during combat operations.
From there these units went on to assist with regional modernization efforts during multiple Abrams Logistical Summits (ALS) conducted with Polish military partners after the construction of the Abrams Tank Training Academy in the Republic of Poland at the Biedrusko Training Area in Poznan, Poland.
“It’s all about building the partnership in regards to the NATO allies,” said Maj. Robert C. Churchill, the operations officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, during one of these summits. “Doing this builds our allies and ensures our enduring partnership in Poland will continue and only get stronger.”
The work continued at exercise Hammer 22 as units attached to the 1st ID trained alongside Finland’s Armored Brigades. The exercise utilized over 4,000 Finnish soldiers and about 200 U.S. Soldiers from the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division (3-1 ABCT). The U.S. cavalry Soldiers trained shoulder to shoulder with their Finnish counterparts in the forests of Kankaanpää, Finland, operating M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Abrams tanks throughout the duration of the two week exercise.
“I know we have a team here we can fight alongside with,” said Lt. Col. Levi Thompson, commander of the 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3-1 ABCT, one of the unit’s operationally assigned to the 1 ID that participated in the exercise.
Many of these training missions emphasized the importance of knowing NATO’s capabilities and how best to work together. By year’s end, the 1 ID and its partner units supplied a combat force of approximately 12,000 Soldiers. These elements worked in conjunction with host nations to ensure stability and create strengthened bonds of partnership.
“I can say that being together is good,” said Lt. Col. Viktors Kareckis, battalion commander for the Latvian National Guard’s 4th Brigade, 44th Infantry Battalion during exercise NAMEJS 22. Kareckis and his unit coordinated force protection alongside U.S. Soldiers during the Latvian-led combined military exercise in which U.S. Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division Artillery, working in tandem with Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 321st Field Artillery Regiment, 18th Field Artillery Brigade and Airmen of the 352nd Special Operations Wing, delivered two M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, often referred to as HIMARS, to multiple locations across Latvia as a way to showcase their capability for rapid response.
NAMEJS rolled into Silver Arrow, then Iron Wolf and Bull Run soon thereafter; a year of active participation in the combined effort of NATO defense and training.
To cap off the year, Soldiers stationed at the forward operating station in Bolesławiec, Poland, conducted exercise Winter Strike 22, a command post exercise and simulated battle drill designed to further develop battlefield communication strategies amongst allied leadership elements.
“Over the course of the last 20 plus years, we have been fighting a counter-insurgency battle and now we’re shifting our focus back to large-scale combat operations,'' said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Paul G. Lockhart, commander of 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division (3-4 ABCT), during one of the many live fire exercises conducted in Europe throughout the year. “We’re getting back to the basics so if we have to fight a near peer threat or competitor, we have the ability to do that.”
The Purpose of Action
The 1 ID and its partner units were just as active away from the field training exercises. Soldiers were sent to historical sites throughout Europe to better understand the land and its people.
This started in June at the 7th Anniversary of D-Day at numerous locations within Normandy. Then, in August, there was a tank re-enactment in Belgium re-telling the story of the Battle of the Mons Pocket where Allied forces worked to liberate a significant area in Western Europe. Later, in two more sobering trips, with tours through Auschwitz and the Berlin Wall.
“I am deeply grateful that [the United States] has been serving here and working on tightening Polish and American military cooperation,” said Jaroslaw Mika, commander of Poland’s Branches of the Armed Forces, during a recent transfer of authority in which the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1 ID, replaced the 3-4 ABCT. “Serving together, Polish and American soldiers have had a great opportunity to exchange their military capabilities but also to learn from each other and expand their horizons.”
These events, especially those remembering moments of history, often provided a lens with which to see a transfer from the old guard to the new. At Normandy, during the celebration commemorating the Invasion of Normandy, French veterans who participated in the liberation of the country during the Second World War stood alongside a new generation of Soldiers assigned to the 1 ID.
"War still knocks on Europe's doors,” said Jean-Pierre L'honneur, the mayor of Carentan, during the 78th Anniversary of D-Day. “It is more important than ever to remember the horrors of past conflicts, and how precious and fragile peace between people is."
It was no different at the re-enactment in Belgium, when at a farm in Mons, a German reenactor remembered the pivotal role the U.S. Army played leading to reconstruction in Post War Europe as young children played on a static M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
“People in Germany, especially the people that have been old enough to be part of the divided Germany, appreciate the support of NATO and the Americans,” said Joakim Steinweden, a German reenactor with the U.S. Military Vehicle Club and the Vice President of Historic Events at the General Creighton W. Abrams Association of the United States Army Chapter in Frankfurt, Germany. “The Germans never forgot about the Berlin Airlift, it is still the strongest symbol for the German-American friendship. We did not forget.”
U.S. Soldiers assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, use a U.S. Army M2A3 Bradley fighting vehicle as cover during a live-fire exercise part of Defender Europe at Oberlausitz Training Area, Germany, May 19, 2022. Defender Europe 22 is a series of U.S. Army Europe and Africa multinational training exercises in Eastern Europe. The exercise demonstrates U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s ability to conduct large-scale ground combat operations across multiple theaters supporting NATO. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Hassani Ribera)
And once again during a transfer of authority ceremony in Grafenwöhr, Germany, as Soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division set foot on European soil for the first time since the end of the Second World War.
“The reputation of the 101st Airborne Division and the 1st Infantry Division are known around the world for its professionalism, discipline and commitment to excellence,” said U.S. Army Col. Amy Downing, commander of the 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade. “Generation after generation, the Soldiers of these two storied divisions represent the very best of our Army and have demonstrated complete commitment to supporting combat operations, anywhere, anytime.”
A Year Like No Other
According to a recent message by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in a year like no other, armed forces members operating in Europe played an essential role in developing unity amongst regional partners and allies.
“A lot of young Soldiers ask me if they’ll get combat patches for this deployment,” said U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. James E. McConville during a visit to the 1 ID forward operating station Bolesławiec. “I hope not because then we did our job, we deterred any further combat from happening here. But, I know if we need to fight, we’re ready.”
Just a few days before Christmas, McConville and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston visited U.S. Army Soldiers of the 1 ID at the forward operating station in Bolesławiec to acknowledge the work of the units who spent the year supporting this NATO mission.
“What you are doing here is making a difference,” said McConville. “Our administration, our leadership has said that we will defend every inch of NATO. You are in those inches of NATO.”
During the visit, Grinston hosted a forum with noncommissioned officers of the 1 ID. There he recounted his time serving as sergeant major of the Army when many new threads were woven into the story of America and how the U.S. Army played a part in those events.
From when the first cases of Soldiers with COVID-19 emerged in South Korea; to when the National Guard was activated in Washington D.C. to ensure the peaceful transition of power; and then to the withdrawal from Afghanistan, when the U.S. Army helped evacuate 120,000 Afghan nationals; among these Grinston recalled many instances that occurred during his tenure as sergeant major of the U.S. Army.
“When people talk about our Army, you should tell them that story,” said Grinston.
In February of 2023, exactly one year after the 1 ID arrived in Europe, the unit will transfer command authority to the 4th Infantry Division, having woven new threads in the ever growing fabric of European and American history.
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