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Jul 27 2023

Interview with Commander eFP Battlegroup Lithuania: "Common mission has united us"

SZCZECIN, Poland – German Army Lieutenant Colonel Lars Neitzel has been in command of NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup Lithuania for about six months. In this interview, he talks about what this time has been like for him and his troops.

LTC Lars Neitzel © NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania

You have been commanding the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Lithuania since February. How did the start go?

The start went really smoothly. I was in contact with our predecessor rotation and its commander long before we took over. The handover of the 12th rotation began in January and was completed with the handover of command on February 09, 2023. Both the companies and the staff sections got to work quickly afterwards - there was little time to settle in. Six months is both little and a lot of time. Since we already knew the key personnel of our multinational Allies through our joint exercises during mission preparation 2022, there was no need for a long familiarisation phase. Only with regard to the different military capabilities and procedures of the Dutch, Norwegians, Croats and Czechs was there a need for timely training, whereby these gaps in the knowledge of all soldiers were quickly filled through static displays and capability briefings.

How did the Battlegroup prepare for the important Iron Wolf certification exercise?

If you look at it very closely, our battlegroup was already "combat ready" when it arrived in Lithuania. We already proved our "combat readiness" as a multinational battlegroup in November 2022 at the Army Combat Training Centre. 

Mounted on their all-terrain vehicles, Norwegian soldiers with NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania perform tasks amind a simulated CBRN attack © NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania
A German soldier with NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania executes a manoeuvre out of the German Army infantry fighting vehicle Marder © NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania

Here, we only lacked the Norwegians and the Croats to have the military capabilities of all nations together.  Thus, the Iron Wolf certification exercise is rather a "re-evaluation" of our "combat readiness". Along the way, the companies have undergone a great deal of training at group and platoon level - both nationally and internationally. Within the staff, the NATO command and control process was practised in the context of Lithuanian defence planning. The first joint Battlegroup exercise finally started at the beginning of April with Rising Bull, before moving on to the certification exercise Iron Wolf.

How did you prepare for this mission with your soldiers in advance?

As outlined earlier, we did not just meet with our international comrades in January and February of this year. The multinational mission preparation already started in July 2022 with a joint week in Hamburg. Here we developed staff regulations for the NATO battlegroup command process and other standard procedures. In September, the multinational Battlegroup was then in Hammelburg to put the developed procedures through their paces and revise weaknesses with the help of the SIRA combat exercise simulation system. The joint operational preparation finally culminated in the Army's Combat Training Centre in Letzlingen. Beforehand, all nations prepared intensively for the rotation in their respective countries. The preparation before the start of the deployment often lasts at least twelve months.

What was a very special moment for you personally?

A special moment for me was the visit of the Federal President, who visited the Battlegroup with his Lithuanian counterpart. I was deeply impressed by the sympathetic demeanour and empathy of our head of state. I also thought the idea of flying soldiers' families to Lithuania was great. This shows an extraordinary appreciation for our relatives. I personally think that the main burden is borne on the "home front" anyway. Finally, I took the opportunity to ask the Federal President for a personal photo. That was a very special moment for me.

Were there also setbacks?

So far we have been really lucky in our rotation. We have had some accidents, injuries and also repatriations due to illness. But there was nothing life-threatening. We have been on the road for a long time and a lot. And with exercises, despite the extensive safety efforts, there is always a residual risk that cannot be eliminated. Nevertheless, we were spared any serious incidents.

Are you satisfied with the Battlegroup's performance? What would you recommend to your successor?

I am indeed very satisfied with the performance of the 13th rotation and proud of each and every one of my soldiers. Despite all the multinational differences, the common mission has united us - namely to be ready to give life and limb for the defence of the NATO alliance area. The mere proximity to NATO's external border lends a great seriousness to the mission. We were really successful. The Iron Wolf exercise was terminated for us one day earlier because we were "too fast" in the attack target. Certainly, this is a symbolic measure - but it contributed to the soldiers' self-confidence. There is not much I can recommend to my successor. He too is an experienced soldier and a good commander with a strong unit. He will go his own way. The only thing I really urged him to do is to put a lot of emphasis on good multinational cooperation right from the start. Within the battlegroup and in the interaction with our Lithuanian partners.

A Croatian soldier with NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania performs tasks as part of the friendly force during Iron Wolf 23 © NATO eFP Battlegroup Lithuania
LTC Neitzel accompanies the Presidents of Lithuania and Germany as they visit the Battlegroup in Rukla © German Armed Forces

Story by Multinational Corps Northeast Public Affairs Office

This interview was FIRST PUBLISHED in German by the German Army

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