VAERNES GARRISON, Norway -- Seven months ago, planning began for Exercise Cold Response 16, a cold-weather training exercise involving 12 NATO and partner countries and approximately 16,000 troops.
Norway extended an invitation to the U.S. Marines, which was graciously accepted, and the two countries put their heads together to make this year’s exercise one of the largest, in terms of Marine participation, in recent years.
One key element of the exercise’s success has been close coordination between Norwegian and U.S. planners, who have tackled the monumental task of trying to envision the future of this large-scale exercise, anticipate problems ahead of the game and brainstorm potential solutions.
Norwegian Lt. Col Erik Bjørnstadbråten and U.S. Marine Maj. Marcus Mainz have been communicating throughout the planning process and have been attached at the hip and focused on that task since 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade personnel began arriving in Norway nearly a month ago.
“What we said to each other from the very beginning is ‘Let’s make this as real as possible. What if we really had to do this as a team? Let’s find all those little things that you would have to do, things you would never think of until you’re there,’” said Mainz, 2d MEB future operations planner for the exercise. “We said every system we pull from the caves, we will go test. We will drive it, we will shoot it, we will move it along roads; we don’t want to just get there and pretend. I think that was the big difference – that we were willing to do it the hard way to get all the lessons learned.”
Cold Response will incorporate air, land, maritime and cyber domains. This year’s addition of a Combined Joint Task Force, which will integrate international military personnel into a single headquarters element coordinating the actions of an aggregated force. Under this structure, Norway’s Brigade North will participate as a tactical brigade rather than on its more customary role as a Land Component Command according to Bjørnstadbråten, 2d MEB future operations officer for the exercise. “The interoperability part of it – all nations and all their sub-units have to link up and establish common procedures, both during the integration phase and improving upon this during the exercise. I think it’s good for the MEB as well for all other participant nations,” said Bjørnstadbråten.
Though the exercise will commence later this month, Marines have been in Norway since January testing equipment and really getting a feel for how to operate in this environment to get the absolute most out of the training.
According to Mainz, U.S. personnel are presented with a unique opportunity by training in Norway: nothing is off-limits. Participants will not be confined to military bases and will train over a large swath of the country with very little restriction on tactical movements.
“This is a tough experience to replicate, not just with the cold weather, but with the way the Norwegians are allowing us to operate; I think we’re going to get one of the most unique experiences that a brigade has had in a really long time,” said Mainz. “It’s what a war in this region could really be like.”
Norwegians and Americans have spent several months, side-by-side, planning an exercise projected to last only 10 days, but knowing that the two nations will have grown immensely as a powerful force by the end of it.
“We talk a lot about trust and I think our countries – on a military level – trust each other more now than they have in decades. I think that’s probably the most important thing that we’ve built, along with all the interoperability,” said Mainz. “I absolutely believe that we have to keep doing this kind of collaboration, and we have to keep doing these kinds of exercises that put strains on the systems, that find errors and that just make us better and stronger.”