Troops from 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards have spearheaded a massive battlefield exercise as part of a multinational NATO force in Poland.
Also known as The Welsh Cavalry, the reconnaissance unit deployed to the north east of the country in April as part of Operation Cabrit.
The final stage of Exercise Sabre Strike took place on Bemowo Piskie Training Area after two weeks of complex training involving 18,000 soldiers spread across Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
Specifically, The Welsh Cavalry provided the reconnaissance element as part of NATO’s enhanced Force Presence, integrating with the Polish 15th Mechanized Brigade with US Strykers, Romanian air defence and Croatian rocket systems in the mix.
Major Ben Parkyn, officer commanding C Squadron QDG, said his troops have been at the “tip of the spear”.
“There are four battlegroups on NATO's enhanced Forward Presence and we are part of Battlegroup Poland," he said. “As the US 2nd Cavalry Regiment came through Poland we pushed in advance of them to provide a reconnaissance screen, they then pushed through that and we conducted a handover with them.
“We were very lucky in having the opportunity to go to the States last year and spend some time at the National Training Centre which was hugely beneficial to us in working the friction seams and towards smooth interoperability. The more you work together the more you get one another."
'working the friction seams'
The squadron was supported with REME, gunners and signallers with fire support teams and JTAC to bring in aircraft and attack helicopters. Desert Hawk III operators were also on hand to tactically deploy forward from the squadron HQ.
Major Parkyn said: “The challenge has been all about working the friction seams - so how do I talk to the Battlegroup around us with Croatian rockets and the Romanian air defence and how do I let the US know, as their reconnaissance element, what the enemy picture is on the ground.
“It really boils down to the communication and logistics aspect of it. We’ve been working with Strykers and pushing forward ahead as the eyes and ears of the Battlegroup, pulling it through the battlespace so that combat power is used more efficiently.
“This deployment has an added frisson of training with an edge. We are 60km from the Russian border and there is a live threat and it brings the situation in training to life.
“This is as close as it get to realism and the fact that it’s multinational is even better because it’s a real challenge to make it work.
“For all of us here it really does feel as if we are making a difference and pushing the UK’s capability forward as part of NATO."
It is a significant time for Welsh Regular units with all deployed at one time on front-end British Army operations - 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh has been on Operation Cabrit in Estonia since January and 1st Battalion Welsh Guards are currently on Operation Toral in Afghanistan, training and mentoring the security forces there.
The QDG have been using three vehicles on the deployment - the Jackal 2 and Coyote, which are high-mobility platforms and strapped with General Purpose Machine Guns - and the Panther, used by the squadron headquarters command team and allow more range in terms of communications.
Corporal Tristan Thomas, 33, from Llantwit Major, in the Vale of Glamorgan, is the main communications operator for the squadron but spent the build up to Exercise Sabre Strike in the US Army’s Stryker vehicle.
“It has been strange working in a Stryker because I’m used to working in a Jackal and the speed that comes with,” said Tristan.
"This is the first time I’ve not worked in British call signs and with another nation and the main thing is to iron out comms creases for smooth link ups. It’s about recognising, yes, we are individual forces but we’re coming together as NATO and it works.
"We’re meant to be able to push out, operate at reach, find, understand and influence. We’re the eyes and the ears to ensure the battlegroup can keep rolling forward as and when is needed."