"I would go to war with you. You can be rightfully proud of your achievements during Trident Jupiter ."
These were the words of Lt. Gen. J.T. Thomson, Commander, NATO Allied Land Command, to Eurocorps Commander French Army Lt. Gen. Laurent Kolodziej just before signing the official documents certifying Eurocorps Nov. 14 as the NATO Response Force land component for 2020.
The NRF is a highly ready and technologically advanced, multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed. It is based on a rotational system where Allied nations commit forces for a period of 12 months. LANDCOM is responsible for evaluating land component combat readiness for the NRF.
Lt. Gen. Thomson, who served as exercise chief for LANDCOM's Combat Readiness Evaluation team, reminded the Strasbourg, France based war fighting corps headquarters of the significance of their evaluation.
"The last time this great formation conducted a combat readiness evaluation was in 2010. The standards [then] were very different. We lived in an alliance that was focused on crisis response and less on collective defense," Thomson said, suggesting that the threat situation has changed significantly recent years.
The certification exercise was conducted as part of Trident Jupiter 2019 and served as Phases II and III – the field evaluation and after action review/out brief – for Eurocorps' CREVAL.
Phase I, the administrative in-barracks evaluation, was conducted at their headquarters in late September. These final phases were where Eurocorps' resilience and capability as a NRF Land Component Command Headquarters was tested against the backdrop of an intense NATO Article V scenario.
During the test Eurocorps found themselves facing multiple Armies from a fictitious nation that had invaded several sovereign NATO allies, requiring Eurocorps to mobilize as NATO's first line of defense.
"Nothing is fair in war, the enemy is going to take advantage of you," Thomson said to his Eurocorps audience, stating that, unlike the cold-war era, today's potential adversaries are much more aware of their own shortcomings. "We must be careful to becoming less self-aware of our shortcomings," he said.
This is the first CREVAL to adopt elements of the CREVAL 'New Approach', and the fourth CREVAL LANDCOM has administered in 18 months. LANDCOM has two more scheduled next year including evaluations of Allied Rapid Reaction Corps as a War-Fighting Corps Headquarters and NATO Rapid Deployable Corps Turkey during their preparations to assume the NRF role for 2021.
"This Eurocorps CREVAL is the first to transition to the new approach, which aims to increase war fighting readiness by relying less on generic checklists and more on training objectives that prepare the formation on their upcoming role," said Spanish Army Brig. Gen. Alfonso Alba, LANDCOM Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans during the out brief.
LANDCOM and Eurocorps agreed to primary training objectives used during the evaluation in January through commander to commander dialogue.
"I would like to highlight the excellent cooperation and support we have received from Eurocorps throughout the process," said Brig. Gen. Alba. "Your collaboration is much appreciated and has facilitated our job and will undoubtedly benefit the outcome."
This intended outcome includes a Training Support Package Eurocorps can use to build and sustain readiness over the next year. Lt. Gen. Thomson held up the binder containing this package while commending their forward-thinking approach to the exercise.
"This new approach is getting away from just pure science and checklists and [incorporating] something higher," said Thomson. "I commend Eurocorps for recognizing a year ago that we need to up our game and train as we fight, and focus on the things that Corps' do which are reflected in the training objectives."
The CREVAL itself covered six war fighting functions: Command and Control, Movement and Maneuver, Sustainment, Joint Fires, Intelligence, and Force Protection. Each function had a LANDCOM evaluation chief tracking Eurocorps' progress in that specific area.
"Eurocorps attacked this exercise with a vengeance," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joe Hansen, LANDCOM Joint Fires evaluation chief. "It's rare you come across such a great team that comes together and tackles everything in front of them," he said. "As an evaluator, I was consistently impressed by the dedication, the determination of this outfit. NATO continues to demonstrate that there is nothing this alliance can't do."
Lt. Gen. Kolodziej expressed his appreciation for the new approach to combat readiness evaluations citing that it gives back to the commanders the ability to shape the process. For him, emphasis on command and control was a priority.
"It's about solving pressure [situations] and building confidence," he said. "The command and control operation is not an issue [in] which you tread lightly, because at the end of the day, our soldiers' lives are at stake."
Both commanders agreed this CREVAL new approach was not the end of the readiness process.
"It shows that combat readiness is not the status to achieve, and then you rest, it is a never ending process," Lt. Gen. Kolodziej said. "If you stop you're done. If you stop, complacency comes back."
He emphasized his soldiers are ready for the mission.
"The Eurocorps is prepared to assume NATO Response Force Land Component Command 2020 on 1 January 2020. We are combat ready," he said.