MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama Army Guardsmen are participating in the largest exercise since COVID-19 shut down most training and travel. Exercise Defender-Europe 21 began with 26 nations, including the U.S., and some 28,000 multinational forces all focused on building operational readiness and interoperability between NATO allies and partners.
The strategic movement will include 20,000 Active, Guard and Reserve personnel at locations throughout Europe. Defender-Europe 21 will encompass several linked exercises, including:
- Swift Response (early to mid-May) – airborne operations in Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania involving more than 7,000 troops from 11 countries.
- Immediate Response (mid-May through early-June) – more than 5,000 troops from eight countries will spread out across 31 training areas in 12 countries to conduct live-fire training. A Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore operation will also occur.
- Saber Guardian (mid-May through early-June) – more than 13,000 service members from 19 countries will conduct live-fire and air and missile defense operations, plus a large-scale medical evacuation.
- Command Post Exercise (June) – 2,000 personnel will exercise the headquarters' ability to command multinational land forces in a joint and combined training environment while maintaining real-world operations across 104 countries on two continents.
Defender 21 will also be associated with two key training events occurring May through June: African Lion and Steadfast Defender.
"Our Guardsmen are all too familiar with immediate response, and the past 18 months or so have honed our skills," said Maj. Jacqueline Krimmel, director of Alabama National Guard public affairs.
Supporting Immediate Response from Alabama are the 1-131st Assault Helicopter Battalion, the 167th Infantry and the 131st Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. Approximately 2,100 National Guard Soldiers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia are participating.
Last year's planned exercise was to be the largest NATO exercise in Europe in 25 years, but it had to be cut back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Perhaps more planning and training has gone into this annual training period than any other, to include the strict COVID prevention and mitigation measures, said Command Sgt. Major Terry White, 167th Infantry Battalion.
"It has been difficult not doing it in person, in country, there was no ADVON, and we did these functions using video and conference calls."
Although the pandemic presents a challenge, the mission must continue.
"While we are closely monitoring the COVID situation, we've proven we have the capability to train safely despite the pandemic. No matter what, our nations count on our forces being ready to defend the peace," said Gen. Christopher Cavoli, U.S. Army Europe and Africa commanding general.
Units will quarantine before and after the training and be tested for the coronavirus.
"Always, the safety of our Soldiers comes first," said Michael Wilson, Chief Warrant Officer 3, Company A, 1st Battalion, 131st Assault Helicopter Battalion.