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May 5 2021

NATO eFP Battle Group Lithuania looks back at exercise Cristal Arrow 21

Ādaži, Latvia – In March 2021, the 1st Company of enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Group Lithuania participated in "Crystal Arrow 21", a multinational NATO exercise held in Latvia. The armoured vehicle crews, armoured infantry soldiers and engineers underwent weeks of intensive training in preparation for the exercise. The purpose of "Crystal Arrow" was to evaluate the operational effectiveness of eFP Battle Group Latvia. The multinational exercise brought together men and women from eight nations to demonstrate NATO's collective defence capabilities in the Baltic states.

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Staff Sergeant Alexander S. (German Army), an armoured infantry squad leader / Photo by eFP LTU PAO
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After arriving in Ādaži, the vehicle crews immediately get to work to unload the train / Photo by eFP LTU PAO

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The armoured infantry soldiers gather for a debrief / Photo by eFP LTU PAO
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The tent village is home to soldiers from seven nations / Photo by eFP LTU PAO

Pulled by a small diesel locomotive, the railroad cars transporting the soldiers of the 1st Company and their vehicles make their way on the seemingly endless tracks. After passing one final motorway bridge, the train and its cargo arrive at the Ādaži train station. Once the train has come to a halt, the doors of the cars are flung open, and the unloading ramp for the armoured vehicles is prepared. The soldiers spread out and take over their jobs as drivers and ground guides. Everything runs smoothly – after many weeks of training, everybody knows their role. The beginning of the exercise on the nearby military training area is scheduled for tomorrow already.

Tent village on the Ādaži military training area

The soldiers find the training area covered by a blanket of ice and snow as they arrive at the tent village – the home of military personnel from seven NATO nations. Heat is generated by diesel stoves, food is served in a large community tent, and personal hygiene routines are performed outdoors. Cultural boundaries prove no obstacle to communication.

We look forward to training in a multinational context and to get to know our partner nations and their capabilities, says Captain B., the Commander of the 1st Company.

Diversity for a common goal

The members of the Battle Groups offer a diverse set of skills for possible collective defence operations in the Baltic states. "I consider these differences a strength of our defensive Alliance. To get to know the capabilities of our partners is the goal of our common efforts in Latvia," says the Commander of eFP Battle Group Lithuania. "Hence our motto: 'strong – together'." Everybody can take a look at, touch or ask questions about the equipment of the other nations. As permitted by hygiene regulations, the partner nations share knowledge and get to know one another. This is an important first step for the multinational combat exercise.

Attack on command

Just after sunrise, the vehicles move into their positions. Once given the green light by Exercise Control, 1st Company, which has been reinforced by a Latvian platoon, mounts its attack. The umpires supervise the exercise force and tag those taken out of play by enemy fire. This first training rotation ends after three hours. The attack was repelled. The company commander meets with the platoon leaders to analyse the unit's performance, and after a break the next training rotation begins.

This cycle is repeated throughout the entire week. Reinforced with soldiers from the Latvian Iron Wolf Brigade, the 1st Company's role is to act as an adversary of eFP Battle Group Latvia. This enables both sides to improve their capabilities for multinational cooperation.

United for a common goal

"We have learned a lot from our comrades of Battle Group Latvia. But I am fairly certain that they, too, have learned a lot from us," says Staff Sergeant Alexander S., a squad leader within the 1st Company's Armoured Infantry Platoon "D". His observation perfectly encapsulates the purpose of the evaluation of combat readiness - to identify strengths and weaknesses in oneself and others and to adapt future training to the lessons learned:

I am pleased with everybody in my squad. While the past few days were difficult, we have learned valuable lessons and know now who we will be fighting side by side with in the event of a conflict.

A firing demonstration caps off the exercise

The grand finale: On the last day of the exercise, dozens of eyes are trained on the firing range in front of them. The demonstration of firepower and precision concludes the multinational exercise of the NATO battle groups in Latvia and Lithuania.

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Prior to the firing exercise, the main battle tank crews need to load ammunition. The US Abrams battle tanks are equipped with a 120mm smooth-bore cannon / Photo by eFP LTU PAO
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The vehicle crews use the time between the exercise rotations to rest. In the back of the crew compartment of the Marder infantry fighting vehicle, they seek shelter from the adverse weather conditions / Photo by eFP LTU PAO

Story by eFP Battle Group Lithuania Public Affairs Office (CPT Stefan Gierke)

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