Forces: REFORGER In Poland

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April 20, 2022: The United States is sending troops belonging to an U.S. based armored brigade to Germany where they will use prepositioned vehicles, weapons and equipment for training exercises. There have long been four of these prepositioned equipment sites in West Europe. Now there is a new prepositioning site, for an armored brigade, in Poland and it is supposed to be ready in 2022. That will mean equipment for two armored and two mechanized brigades will be stored at sites located in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Poland for units needed in East Europe. Another site in West Europe (Italy) contains equipment for a unit that might be needed in Africa. The Poland storage site makes it possible to fly troops from the U.S. to Poland and have them combat ready in a few days.

These prepositioned sites were created during the Cold War and the equipment largely unused in Europe since the late 1980s. Since 2016 these sites are active again. That means a revival of the REFORGER exercises. The prepositioning of equipment continued after the Cold War ended but the annual troop movement exercises (REFORGER) to use the pre-positioned equipment stopped. Now it is being resumed with at least one brigade a year being sent to Europe to use the pre-positioned equipment for training exercises aimed at defending East Europe against Russia. Just like the Cold War, except then the Russian armies were already in East Europe and it was Western Europe being defended.

This practice of moving troops and equipment as separate entities was a Cold War innovation. To speed the movement of reinforcements from the United States to Europe, in the event of a Soviet attack, or threat of one, two American divisions had one set of equipment in Europe, and another back in the United States, where the divisions were based. In reality this pre-positioning and troop movement plan also served political demands in the United States that some of the divisions stationed there be brought home. The pre-positioning was a politically (to NATO members) acceptable way to withdraw two divisions from Europe. This was done in 1968, but the equipment stayed behind, and was stored and maintained by contractors (local civilians). Starting in 1969 troops from the two withdrawn divisions began flying to Europe each year, firing up the gear, and going out on field exercises. The troops would then return the gear to the storage areas and fly home. These annual exercises lasted until 1988 when the Russian threat was rapidly receding.

The experience gained in all those REFORGER exercises made the army and marines confident that they could apply the concept of prepositioned equipment elsewhere. This also led to the idea, as applied in Iraq from 2004 to 2011 of having the first units to get there to leave their gear behind, if they were being replaced by the same type units, when the troops returned home. This saved a lot of money in shipping costs, not to mention the additional work the troops had to do preparing everything for sea movement. Same deal in Afghanistan and the REFORGER techniques have become standards.

One thing that did change was that there were no longer regular movements of troops each year to use the prepositioned equipment. But there are still REFORGER exercises where the troops are flown overseas, take control of pre-positioned gear and go out and train for a week or two. It is good training and a way to make sure that the pre-positioned material is being maintained properly. The new pre-positioning site in Poland will get regular use because it was found that moving REFORGER units by road or rail from West Europe to Poland or other new NATO members in East Europe was time consuming and complicated by the need to get advance permission from each country that the units passed through.

 


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