From Albanian military police to US helicopter crews, British soldiers have trained alongside colleagues from seven NATO allies in North Macedonia.
Exercise Swift Response has brought together more than 3,000 NATO troops to train under the command of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team (16 Air Asslt BCT), the British Army’s global response force. The manoeuvres are about building the alliance’s readiness to respond to international crises.
A 2,000-strong British contingent is made up of the 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) Battlegroup, built around the airborne infantry of 2 PARA supported by artillery, engineers, logisticians, medics, and signallers from 16 Air Asslt BCT and Aviation Task Force 1 (ATF-1) with Apache attack helicopters and RAF Chinook support helicopters.
2 PARA BG has a company of French paratroopers and Montenegrin infantry under its command and is operating alongside the Italian 187° Reggimento Paracadutisti “Folgore". ATF-1 is working with Chinook and Blackhawk transport helicopters from the US Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, known as Task Force Lobos (TF Lobos).
To complete the mix, Greek forces have been conducting reconnaissance missions alongside Pathfinders, 16 Air Asslt BCT’s reconnaissance expert’s Albanian military police are providing base security and Macedonian soldiers are acting as enemy.
Brigadier Nick Cowley, Commander of 16 Air Asslt BCT, said: “I have been deeply impressed by the common purpose shared by all the nations taking part in Exercise Swift Response. There is a real commitment to training hard together to be ready for the most difficult of operations – warfighting against a peer enemy.
“There are challenges around communications and intelligence, but we can work around these issues and use the differing strengths of our allies to make us a much better fighting force.”
2 PARA’s Private Cameron Dawson speaks fluent French, having grown up in Marseille, and is embedded with the French paratroopers of 8e Régiment de Parachutistes d'Infanterie de Marine.
“The common language of NATO is English and all of the French officers and many of the soldiers speak some English,” he said. “My role is to use my French to deepen the understanding between us, so that we’re all on the same wavelength. I’ve really got on with the French because they’re paratroopers as well, with a similar mindset, training and role as we have.”
North Macedonia joined NATO in 2020 and is the alliance’s newest member. Colonel Vladimir Stojanovski has overseen planning the exercise for the Army of North Macedonia.
“Swift Response is a notable event for my country as the largest military exercise and the first airborne operation in our history,” he said. “It has huge benefits for us in developing interoperability with NATO. We are adopting English as a military language and using NATO communications equipment and weapons systems. We are learning from each other to become stronger together.”
Colonel Stojanovski studied at the Royal College of Defence Studies in London in 2014.
“This was some of the best training I’ve had in my career, learning about strategy and international relations today, tomorrow and in the future,” he said. “It gave me a good understanding of the British military approach, making it easy to plan with the British for this exercise.”