The largest U.S. Army armored brigade combat team to deploy to Europe since the end of the Cold War is underway, with convoys fanning out from Bremerhaven, Germany to training sites stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea for a nine-month rotation on the Continent.
About 4,000 soldiers of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colo., arrived in Germany along with about 90 heavy Abrams tanks and almost 3,000 other pieces of rolling stock, including artillery and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, according to the Army.
“A movement of ABCT assets like this from the United States into Europe hasn’t occurred in decades,” said Capt. Kenneth Kloeppel, a unit movement officer for the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, a 3rd ABCT unit. “It’s huge for this type of brigade effort to unite and lean forward with this mission.”
The plan is to have the troops and their weaponry begin moving to a central staging site in Poland this week, then fan out in the coming weeks to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Germany for a series of training exercises with host-nation forces. “During our nine-month rotation, we’ll routinely exercise, mass and move throughout the European theater to refine our ability to maneuver an armored force across alliance member states,” said Warrant Officer Abraham Rosales, 3rd Brigade mobility officer.
The deployment is taking place under the umbrella of Operation Atlantic Resolve, which NATO launched in 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its ongoing aggression in Ukraine.
Army officials said this marks the beginning of continuous nine-month heavy brigade rotations to Europe, a stepped-up pace from recent years when such movements did not necessarily take place back-to-back.
“It’s the first of … what we call ‘heel-to-toe’ rotations of our armored brigade combat teams,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth L. Kamper, deputy commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division, who is leading the unit’s Mission Command element for Atlantic Resolve.
“The United States has committed to rotating consecutive ABCTs into Europe nine months at a time,” Kamper said. “This is where the ‘heel-to-toe’ phrase has come from—there are no gaps between armored brigades in Europe.”
Russian officials appear to be closely following the deployment. The government-controlled Sputnik news agency recently quoted Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying that NATO’s presence along his country’s western border has grown eightfold over the past decade.
“The U.S. has used claims of Russian military interference in Ukraine as the pretext for its military buildup in Eastern Europe, which Russia regards as a security threat,” the news agency said.
Association of the United States Army