NOVO SELO, Bulgaria --- As an Army tank specialist, Pfc. Brody Henscheid of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, has been in many drills with other U.S. tank crews.
But this week, Henscheid and his comrades were training here for the first time alongside tank crews from the country of Georgia. Henscheid and other U.S. Army troops got a firsthand test of how well they and armed forces from Georgia and other European nations could transcend cultural, organizational, and technical differences to work together in a crisis.
"It's been a lot of fun, and a lot of great training in cohesion and in working better with other forces," Henscheid said. "The Georgians' style is similar to ours. Their equipment is very similar to ours. The language barrier is the only difference."
Henscheid and his tank crew were participating in a combined arms live-fire exercise at Bulgaria's Novo Selo Training Area with forces from Georgia, Bulgaria, and Greece. The exercise was a component of Saber Guardian 2017, a 25,000-participant multinational training exercise that the United States and 21 other nations held July 11-20 at locations throughout Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.
Novo Selo's Saber Guardian 17 activities commenced July 11 and culminated with Eagle Sentinel, four days of live-fire exercises. On July 20, military leaders and news media convened at the base to watch a live-fire demonstration. Bulgarian helicopters raked the ground with gunfire before Georgian infantry rushed the area and made forcible entries into an array of mock buildings. Bulgarian artillery lobbed explosive projectiles while Bulgarian, Greek, and U.S. tanks and armored vehicles patrolled the sidelines, guns drawn and prepared to unleash firepower support.
"This exercise has been a terrific example of Bulgaria providing great host-nation support, with airfields, training, movement along highways, and river crossings -- assets essential for us to be effective as an alliance," Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of U.S. Army Europe, said at a news conference before the July 20 event.
"The Bulgarian Ministry allows us to train in a realistic way, with aircraft flying low, and to mix all the capabilities. It is very important," Hodges said.
Eagle Sentinel is one of numerous training exercises that took place July 11-20 in Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary as part of Saber Guardian 2017, an annual multinational training exercise that USAREUR and its European military partners hold as part of the U.S. European Command's Joint Exercise Program.
The Saber Guardian exercise has been held since 2013, but it and other joint exercises took on a significantly higher level of importance following a NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland, in July 2016. During that summit, NATO nations signed an agreement calling for transitioning NATO's defense forces to a deterrence posture that would dissuade regional adversaries from aggression.
"This exercise is a manifestation of the agreement of 28 nations of NATO last summer to have a tailored forward presence in the black sea region, and of the commitment of the United States to the stability of Europe," Hodges said.
Saber Guardian and other exercises in the region enable those units that provide the forward presence, and their host nations, to improve a range of combat-related capabilities together, but especially the abilities to mobilize quickly and to coordinate effectively with each other, said Army Brig. Gen. Timothy Daugherty, USAREUR's deputy chief of staff for operations. He said showing that NATO forces can amass a strong force in little time will enable it to not only defend its members against aggressive adversaries -- it may deter those adversaries from launching any attacks in the first place.
"You have to have the mobile ability to quickly move from one location to another one, to make it costly for any enemy to gain that foothold. That's really what a lot of these exercises are about," Daugherty said. "If you do that, then it makes it very costly for someone to gain that foothold."