U.S. Defense Chief Observes First U.S.-Ukranian Military Exercises
LVIV, Ukraine (AP) _ Defense Secretary William Perry came to the forested hills of western Ukraine today and heard the pop, pop, pop of Ukrainian AK-74 guns as he observed the first ever U.S.-Ukaranian peacekeeping exercises.
A gray, Ukrainian helicopter zoomed overhead as Perry was joined by the top U.S. commander in Europe, Gen. George Joulwan at the beginning of a simulated attack on a sandbagged checkpoint that was delayed by fog and poor weather.
Some 600 U.S. and Ukrainian soldiers have created 10 field sites around the 180-square-mile Ukrainian military post here, where they are conducting small-unit and individual training for soldiers to prepare them for potential deployment in peacekeeping exercises.
Perry was transported through some muddy roads from field site to field site to visit a mock headquarters unit and positions where soldiers were training in maneuvers such as manning control points and fending off snipers.
``It’s very important to train together in the event we have to work together in joint peacekeeping operations,″ Perry said upon arrival here today. ``Training together makes our military much more effective.″
Joulwan, speaking with reporters accompanying Perry on his four-day European trip, said the exercises prove extremely valuable for both the soldier in the field as well as upper-level commanders.
``It builds an enormous amount of trust and confidence on the soldier-to-soldier level,″ said Joulwan.
The four-star Army general, who is also NATO’s top commander, said the bilateral exercise is an essential element for building new relationships among former enemies in post-Cold War Europe.
Before flying here, Perry and Joulwan held talks with senior U.S. military officers in Germany on a potential NATO plan to extract U.N. peacekeepers from the former Yugoslavia.
Several U.S. soldiers who spoke with reporters here are of Ukrainian extraction and were brought into the exercise to help as translators.
``It’s important to bridge a gap and help out where you can,″ said Specialist Yaropolk Rohowsky, a U.S. Army translator based in Augsburg, Germany, who said he learned Ukrainian from his parents while growing up in Chicago.
The United States has stressed the importance of its relations with Ukraine and President Clinton visited the country earlier this month, praising President Leonid Kuchma for helping the country fulfil its promise of ridding itself of the nuclear weapons it inherited from the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine is expected to ship all of its nuclear warheads back to Russia by the end of next year and Perry said one of Washington’s main goals is maintaining its relationship with this strategic former Soviet republic.
The four-day exercise here, dubbed ``Peace Shield ’95,″ focuses on individual and small-unit training, and the troops practice such things as escorting convoys, manning observation posts, dealing with snipers or smugglers or even drive-by shootings.
The opening was delayed somewhat earlier in the week when soldiers from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division were held up by poor weather and problems with landing at the local air strip.
The U.S. troops, normally quartered in Vilseck, Germany, are working with one of the Ukraine’s premier units, the 24th Motorized Rifle Division.
Members from both units have been working together for months to prepare for the exercise, even drawing up an operations guide in U.S.-Ukrainian military tactics to help each other understand the other’s military methods and practices.
Later in the day, Perry travels to Rome for talks with his Italian counterpart. Italy is the home base for most of NATO’s operations in the Balkans and would become a critical staging area for any rescue effort that might be mounted to rescue U.N. peacekeepers.
Perry also plans talks in Naples with Adm. Leighton Smith, who leads U.S. and NATO forces in southern Europe and the former Yugoslavia.