Operation Dragoon Ride recently rolled through Central Europe and annoys the Russians. From March 20th to April 1st, an US Army squadron returning from Atlantic Resolve NATO exercises took an unusual route back to its base in Germany, after spending three months in training facilities in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia.
Rather than avoiding attention and using a more discrete route (like via sea or on rail cars), the American unit performed a road march, with breaks for meetings with local communities along the way, allowing the soldiers to experience local cultures and meet the residents, who in turn were also eager to see the U.S. military equipment up close. In a few cases the Dragoons rolled by close to the Russian border, often in view of Russian citizens and media.
The operation was carried out by soldiers from the 3rd Squadron (battalion) of the 2nd American Cavalry Regiment which calls itself the Dragoons (an ancient term for horse mounted infantry) and is based in Vilseck, Germany. The Dragoons were accompanied by some helicopters belonging to the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade, which provided aerial observation of the route and refueling. In addition to the show of force, the operation was designed to have the military interact regularly with civilians across Europe and provide reassurance that the United States is nearby if needed.
Another objective of “Dragoon Ride” was to check the logistical capabilities of the U.S. Army units. Secondly, the operation demonstrated capability and logistical feasibility of deploying forces to East Europe. The exercise was controlled from the command station in the Joint Multinational Training Command in Germany.
The squadron sent its three troops (companies), along different routes that passed through Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic, as it made its way back to Germany. The "Iron" troop took the longest (1,900 kilometer) route, while the other two troops began their journey from their training locations in countries closer to Germany. Thus "Lightning" troop started in Lithuania, and "Killer" troop in Poland.
The squadron contained over 500 soldiers about 120 vehicles for this operation. Most of the vehicles were the 90 Strykers (18 tons each, on wheels and armored) accompanied by HMMWV, HEMTT and FMTV trucks. The 12th Combat Aviation Brigade's support included AH-64 Apache and UH-60 helicopters, in addition to CH-47s providing fuel in a field refueling near the Lithuania-Poland border. The convoys were also escorted by military police units of the countries they were passing through.
The American soldiers were mostly well received by the communities they have met, despite a minor collision between a Stryker and a civilian car in Poland. However, it was also met by anti-war protesters in Germany and by a Czech Communist Party protest in the Czech Republic.
A battalion sized element from the 3rd Infantry, including Abrams tanks and Bradley IFVs will take over from the 2nd Cavalry in the Baltics and Poland, while the rest of the soldiers will take part in other exercises in Europe. Their rotation is expected to last until June.
The new force will not be able to repeat the Dragoon's march. Unlike the wheeled Strykers the M-1 tanks are heavy (63 ton) tracked vehicles. The Bradley is also too heavy (at 27 tons) for many of the roads and bridges that had no problem with the Strykers. --Adam Szczepanik