Former Warsaw Pact Troops Deploy in NATO-Sponsored Exercises
EDITOR’S NOTE _ This is a report from the Pentagon-organized national media pool accompanying troops in the Louisiana peacekeeping exercises.
By DAVID BRISCOE
Associated Press Writer
FORT POLK, La. (AP) _ Soldiers from lands once aligned against the West deployed for the first time on U.S. soil today in realistic exercises designed to train for the dangers of peacekeeping.
A predawn landing on a make-believe Atlantic island torn by ethnic strife marked the start of peacekeeping games by 4,000 troops from the United States, Britain, Canada and 14 Eastern European nations.
A pair of C-130 transport planes this morning carried troops to an airstrip named ``Geronimo″ to begin their exercises as peacekeepers, said Army Capt. Cabot Gatlin.
After the sunrise ``assault,″ Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters began ferrying additional troops into the landing zone, Gatlin said. The weather was clear, but already hot and humid with heat indexes expected to top 100 degrees.
Despite the weather, there were no reports of injuries or serious heat-related problems. ``It’s gone very well, people are watching their troops very closely. Some of these people aren’t used to the heat and humidity,″ Canadian Forces Major Walter Chipchase said at midafternoon.
After their dawn ``assault,″ Chipchase said the soldiers took control of the countryside from the ``enemy,″ setting up roadblocks, and dealing with actors playing roles ranging from terrorists to journalists.
The soldiers came to Louisiana for the first NATO Partnership for Peace exercises in the United States and the largest since the group of nations was put together last year in preparation for expanding NATO. The soldiers have been in training for 10 days, but the first major mock exercises began today.
Late Thursday, troops speaking several languages were going over safety measures to ensure against accidents in a large airlift from the England Industrial Air Park, once an air base, to Fort Polk Army Base, about 50 miles away.
``My biggest concern is the air insertion,″ said Col. Ray Fitzgerald, who is in charge of monitoring the training. He said several exercises had to be repeated because some of the troops had difficulty understanding procedures.
Another concern, he said, was the sweltering weather, with daytime temperatures reaching 112 degrees Fahrenheit in huge striped tents where the soldiers spent the night. Many of the participants are used to cooler climates.
Troops came from Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Kyrghyzstan, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Russia did not respond in time to join, officers said, but Russian and U.S. troops are engaging in training exercises in Hawaii later in the month and in Kansas later in the year.
The airlift includes 470 soldiers taken by transport planes and 430 by helicopter. Their mission, similar to the multinational effort in Haiti, is to relieve U.S. troops securing an island split into three factions and full of terrorists, snipers and displaced civilians.
U.S., Canadian and British officers command six companies of troops.
Officers said the emphasis was on making conditions as realistic as possible, with soldiers staying in their roles for six days and five nights.
The peacekeepers are armed with weapons that trigger beepers that tell a soldier when he or she has been killed or wounded, but the aim is not to have any combat or casualties, said Gen. Mike Sherfield, overall commander of the Cooperative Nugget exercise.
He said 4,344 military personnel from the 17 countries, along with observers from several other NATO and Partnership countries, are joining in the exercises. Local civilians have been hired to play the role of villagers.
The trainees, including about 50 soldiers from each participating Partnership country, are encountering a variety of problems that have faced U.N. and other peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Rwanda, Haiti and other areas.
Sherfield, at a briefing for reporters accompanying the troops, said language has been the biggest challenge for the soldiers. He said some of the troops have had previous peacekeeping experience.
The soldiers from eastern and central European states would not be enough to form effective peacekeeping forces by themselves, he said, but they could form the basis for further training in their countries.
Defense Secretary William Perry opened the training exercises on Aug. 8. The early days included intensive training in responding to emergencies expected to come up in the mock peacekeeping operation.
``By developing understanding, cooperation and trust, we can secure peace among our nations,″ Perry told the soldiers.
The visiting troops end their stay with more games and a taste of real American culture: a visit to Astroworld amusement park in Houston.