29th ID leads multinational exercise, Saber Strike 16

Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division and exercise director of Saber Strike 16, speaks with Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, the Latvian Chief of Defence, June 9, 2016, in Valka-Valga, a border town between Latvia and Estonia. U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division from both Maryland and Virginia operated as an exercise control element for Saber Strike, ensuring all units meet their training objectives and helping reallocate resources during the exercise to achieve training objectives. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Frank O’Brien, 29th Infantry Division)

Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division and exercise director of Saber Strike 16, speaks with Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, the Latvian Chief of Defence, June 9, 2016, in Valka-Valga, a border town between Latvia and Estonia. U.S. Army National Guard Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division from both Maryland and Virginia operated as an exercise control element for Saber Strike, ensuring all units meet their training objectives and helping reallocate resources during the exercise to achieve training objectives. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Frank O’Brien, 29th Infantry Division)

ADAZI MILITARY BASE, Latvia — More than 20 Maryland and Virginia National Guard Soldiers from the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division traveled to Europe to participate in Saber Strike 16 June 4-22, 2016, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Saber Strike is a long-standing, U.S. Army Europe-led, cooperative training exercise designed to improve joint operational capability in a range of missions, as well as prepare the 13 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations.

Lt. Col. Eric Brown, a Maryland National Guard Soldier with the 29th Infantry Division, lines up alongside Norwegian and Latvian soldiers during the opening ceremony of the Latvian portion of Saber Strike 16 June 11, 2016, at Adazi Military Base, Latvia. Saber Strike is a long-standing, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise designed to improve joint operational capability in a range of missions, as well as prepare the 13 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations. Saber Strike 16 took place May 26- June 21, 2016, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division)

Lt. Col. Eric Brown, a Maryland National Guard Soldier with the 29th Infantry Division, lines up alongside Norwegian and Latvian soldiers during the opening ceremony of the Latvian portion of Saber Strike 16 June 11, 2016, at Adazi Military Base, Latvia. Saber Strike is a long-standing, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise designed to improve joint operational capability in a range of missions, as well as prepare the 13 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations. Saber Strike 16 took place May 26- June 21, 2016, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division)

“We are here to assure the Baltic states of the commitment of the United States to the common defense of the Baltics,” explained Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the 29th ID and exercise director of Saber Strike 16. “We’re here to build cooperation and interoperability that will give the Allies that ability to work together for defense but also to build the ability to come together in times of crisis.”

Saber Strike 16 featured allied and partner-nation ground forces conducting live-fire, command post, and cyber/electronic warfare training, plus the integration of U.S. close-air support with multinational ground forces. Leading up to the exercise, the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment conducted a 2,200-kilometer tactical road march, called Dragoon Ride II, from Germany to Estonia, to demonstrate U.S. land forces’ dynamic presence throughout the region.

“Saber Strike is an excellent opportunity to train joint and multinational operations,” said Capt. Alex Sanchez of the 29th ID, who served in Latvia. “This opportunity has taken on even greater importance with evolving real world circumstances. The exchange of ideas and development of systems to work across service and national boundaries strengthens our alliances, our partner nations and ourselves.”

Members of the 29th ID served as an exercise control cell for Saber Strike 16, managing many of the support functions and tracking the training requirements for different units going through the exercise. They helped ensure all units met their training objectives and helped reallocate resources during the exercise to achieve training objectives.

“Participating in this sort of exercise helps increase the readiness of the units that participate, but also demonstrates the capability of the National Guard division headquarters to significantly contribute to the security of the United States,” Ortner said.

Army and Air Guard personnel from Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania took part in the exercise as well as the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps.

In addition to the three host countries and the U.S., participating nations in Saber Strike 16 included Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.

“The value to the Virginia and Maryland National Guard is our ability to work with allies,” Ortner said. “Nobody fights a war alone anymore, or handles a disaster alone. Having the familiarity of coordinating with our Allies improves our ability to respond if the National Guard is called to support.”

Working alongside troops from other nations was a valuable and rewarding experience for 29th ID Soldiers participating in all three Baltic countries.

Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division and exercise director of Saber Strike 16, speaks with Latvian media following the opening ceremony of Saber Strike 16 June 11, 2016, at Adazi Military Base, Latvia. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division)

Brig. Gen. Blake C. Ortner, commanding general of the Virginia National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division and exercise director of Saber Strike 16, speaks with Latvian media following the opening ceremony of Saber Strike 16 June 11, 2016, at Adazi Military Base, Latvia. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, 29th Infantry Division)

“They’ve welcomed us with open arms and we’ve worked well together,” said Capt. Winston Bridgeman of the Maryland National Guard, who served in Estonia. “It’s been a wonderful experience for me. I’ve never worked this closely with a foreign military.”

“I feel very lucky to have had this occasion to work closely with so many of our partner nations,” Sanchez said. “This has been a learning opportunity to see the way other armies and services plan and lead their soldiers and Marines. The ability to work closely and learn from each other as individuals has strengthened the foundations of our alliances from the ground up.”

“The cooperation and interoperability that has been learned in this exercise is very important and it will help in any sort of crisis that may arise,” Ortner said. “But the trusted relationships that have been built between the Soldiers, between the nations and between our peoples, is probably the most important achievement that has come out of this exercise and that we know we can and will depend on each other.”