Smoke billowed across the mud-covered field as U.S. Abrams tanks joined German Panther tanks to race across the open field marking the start of an eight-day exercise at the Ādaži military training area, Latvia on March 23, 2021. Exercise “Crystal Arrow 2021” saw two NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups (Latvia and Lithuania), their parent Brigades and U.S. soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment consolidating tactics and techniques necessary for an interoperable force to provide effective deterrence and defense.
NATO Allies and partners from across the globe came together to support and participate with NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Group Latvia to increase cooperation, compatibility and interoperability in the event of a real-world fight against any foreign aggressors who would threaten Latvia’s boarders. Though the scenario might seem simple as battle plans are created, challenges were faced by the Allies and partners. Terrain was not the only challenges faced. Throughout the eight days, soldiers experienced all four seasons of Latvian weather to include rain, snow and freezing temperatures.
“It is pretty cold here and we are not accustomed to it in Spain. I think we did pretty well” said 1st Lt. Aurelio Montero, a tank commander assigned to the Spanish Army.
“The terrain here is very soft,” said U.S. Sgt. Elijah White, a tank commander assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. “We drop track all the time. This is one of the hardest places to train with tanks in my opinion.”
“I am here as an OCT. We observe the battlefield, control it to make it as real as possible and train the force with input from what we see.” As an OCT, Sgt. Sabastien Lightfoot, an engineer assigned to the 5th Canadian Engineer Regiment followed opposing forces across the battlefield where his team employed smoke and pyrotechnics to simulate incoming fire and to disable or destroy military equipment and vehicles. Throughout the exercise, Sgt. Lightfoot and his fellow OCTs took notes of how the NATO forces reacted that will be used in future combined training events to make NATO forces stronger together.
The exercise tested Montero and White’s crews to operate across a battlefield to overcome objectives and defend the objective after taking control of it. While the two main battle tank commanders sat on opposing sides of the battlefield, they had common goals. Those goals included testing partner nations abilities to communicate with each other despite language barriers. As the battlefield lines moved back and forth across the training area, weaknesses in defense and battlefield communications were identified with the help of a multi-national team of Observer Controller Trainers (OCTs).