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Military logistic specialists help deliver Exercise Steadfast Defender

Whether moving across Europe or co-ordinating a tactical river crossing, planning has made a crucial difference for the thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles taking part in a multinational NATO exercise.

The logistical planning for the first stage of the NATO exercise known as Exercise Steadfast Defender has been undertaken by the Enabling Group South. The 400 strong team is temporarily based at NATO’s Forward Holding Base in Normandy Barracks, Sennelager, Germany.

The Enabling Group South is made up of an impressive list of units: 9 Battalion Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers, 9 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, 29 Regiment RLC, 36 Engineer Regiment, 2 Military Intelligence Battalion, 174 Provost Company, 16 Signal Regiment, 1 Medical Regiment and RLC chefs. 

Lieutenant Colonel John Anthistle, the Commander of Enabling Group South, said: “We have had to facilitate the movement of thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles over 1000 kilometres across the whole of Germany. It was a real test to ensure they got to the exercise start line in good order.”

The team of logistical specialists worked around the clock to ensure NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force Land Component (VJTF(L) was in the right place at the right time for the start of Exercise Steadfast Defender.

The VJTF(L) role currently falls to the British Army’s 7 Light Mechanised Brigade Combat Team (7LMBCT) affectionately known as ‘The Desert Rats’. 

Its spearhead Battle Group led by 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment can deploy within days anywhere in the world in support of NATO allies.

The Brigade Combat Team and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment flew into Sennelager to join their vehicles which had travelled by sea from Marchwood near Southampton to Emden in Germany. They have then continued the journey to Poland.

Vehicle Support Specialists from 521 Squadron, 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, were in Emden to meet the shipment and off-load the 7 LMBCT and 2nd Battalion The Royal Anglian vehicles from the ROROs (Roll-On Roll Off Ferry).

Then Movement Controllers organised the vehicles into packets (groups) ready for their transfer to NATO’s Forward Holding Base.

To the untrained eye it might have looked like vehicles were simply being unloaded from a ship, but it was a much bigger logistical feat than that. Careful logistical planning enabled the masses of vehicles to be moved quickly on and off the colossal vessels.

On arrival at the NATO Forward Holding Base, the drivers fuelled their vehicles using a temporary fuel terminal built and managed by 66 Fuel and General Support Squadron, 9 Regiment RLC.

The installation contains over one million litres of fuel in above-ground collapsible bladders and can distribute fuel to six vehicles at any one time at a rate of approximately 1000 to 1200 millilitres per minute. This means that a large tanker can be filled in just 20-minutes. 

Fuelling completed, vehicle mechanics then gave the vehicles a 21-point check to ensure they had not been damaged on the sea crossing and were fit to continue the journey to Poland.  

The 21-point check included the vehicles steering, suspension components and driveshafts remained serviceable, that the exterior lights worked, that no engine management or warning lights were illuminated on the dashboard and that the tyres were still in good condition with the required tread depth.

Once checked the vehicles were parked up for the night and the drivers were able to refuel themselves thanks to the cookhouse. Fourteen military chefs worked with three civilian chefs around the clock to ensure soldiers arriving at the base regardless of the arrival time had a hot meal.

With the soldiers rested and fed, vehicles and communications checked, the VJTF(L) could start its 1000km road move to the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in Poland. There they joined Polish troops, as well as those from Algeria, Spain, and Turkey to begin the next stage of Exercise Steadfast Defender.

Lieutenant Colonel John Anthistle said: “This exercise is a clear demonstration that we have the logistics capability to rapidly mobilise the VJTF(L) out of the door if called upon. Whatever the mission, be it big, medium, or small, we will be there to operate a speedy and efficient deployment and get troops and vehicles where they need to be.”

Exercise Steadfast Defender is NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War. It demonstrates the unbreakable bond between NATO allies in Europe and North America, who have kept over one billion people safe for 75 years.

Approximately 90,000 troops from all 31 NATO Allies, as well as new partner Sweden, are participating in the Exercise that will test and refine NATO’s defence plans for reinforcing European defences against a near-peer adversary.

NATO exercises on this scale are planned years in advance and use a fictitious scenario aimed at enhancing the Alliance’s collective defence. 


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