Army Major General John L. Gronski

Defense Systems Journal had a chance to sit down last week at the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS) Annual Meeting and Exhibition with Maj. Gen. John L. Gronski, Deputy Commanding General of the Army National Guard within U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR).

Here are five things we learned at NGAUS from General Gronski:

#1 The U.S. military is leveraging the National Guard to secure Europe today with one-tenth the force of yesterday

#2 Cold war has been replaced by hot war in Europe

#3 America has increased its presence/investment in Eastern Europe

#4 America’s allies are, indeed, contributing to the fight

#5 NATO Forces train and operate together in Eastern Europe

The U.S. military is leveraging the National Guard to secure Europe today with one-tenth the force of yesterday

General Gronski observes that 35-40 years ago the United States had nearly 300,000 soldiers in Germany (this not factoring in other Navy or Marine Corps personnel) and the mission then was to deter the Soviet Union, reassure our allies, and protect U.S. personnel and interests in Europe. Fast forward to 2017 and the U.S. has about 30,000 soldiers assigned to an identical mission. So we are doing the same mission today with about one-tenth of the U.S. Army force that we used to have there. To bridge this gap, two key elements are utilizing National Guard and Reserve to conduct exercises and operations in Europe and using regionally allocated or rotational forces from the continental United States (CONUS) to come over the Europe on “heel-to-toe” rotations.

General Gronski confirms that to address the forward-based force structure shortfall identified above Guard forces are more active than ever today in support of U.S. and NATO objectives in Europe. He notes that roughly 8,000 National Guard forces and 4,000 Army reservists supported over 100 separate military exercises in Europe just this year to date.

Cold War has been Replaced by Hot War in Europe

In 2008 the Russian military executed an incursion into Georgia — as a hedge against EU and NATO membership for that sovereign nation — and still has troops stationed in the states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Likewise, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine beginning in 2014 – a proxy war that experts estimate has killed in excess of 10,000 – makes clear that the Cold War of the past half-century has given way to hot war in Eastern Europe. Speaking of the Donbass area in Eastern Ukraine where Russian-led separatists are battling Ukrainians, General Gronski notes: “Most people probably don’t realize that there’s an average of about 15-20 Ukrainian soldiers dying here each month and about the same amount of Russian separatists dying there every month as well. It is absolutely a war. It is not an unresolved conflict.”

To better position the Government of Ukraine to train and defend itself, General Gronski notes that Guard troops from Oklahoma are deployed today in the western part of the country in coalition with NATO forces. While the U.S. is not providing arms to Ukraine (only non-lethal aid), National Guard forces are performing the essential mission of the Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine, namely, training Ukrainian forces on tactics – and on how to establish and maintain their own training center — before these troops enter combat against the Russians supported separatists in the Donbass region.

America has Increased its presence/investment in Eastern Europe

The U.S. European Reassurance Initiative (ERI), launched by the Obama Administration and funded by the U.S. Congress when the Russians illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, has seen its overall budget grow from roughly $1 billion in 2015 to $3.4 billion in 2017. Notably, the Trump Administration — which no observer would accuse of being overly pro-NATO — has requested $4.8 billion in ERI funding — a 40% boost — for Fiscal Year 2018… see here for details.

General Gronski puts this massive security investment in context: “For the American taxpayer, when you hear $4.8 billion for ERI, it seems like a tremendous amount of money, but when you think of the cost of NATO liberating a country like Lithuania, if the Russians went in there and occupied it, you have to consider the trillions of dollars it would cost, the number of civilian and military casualties that would be involved. So I really look at the $4.8 billion as being a good insurance policy to deter Russia from that type of aggression.”

As for Europeans reconciling the rhetoric of the inwardly-focused Trump Administration with this material commitment to expanding ERI in the face of the Russian threat, General Gronski says that America’s NATO allies are focused much more on results than words: “I think that that our European allies and partners see that whenever the U.S. is serious about anything, they put money and personnel behind it and they can see today that the U.S. is serious about our commitment to NATO by the number of personnel that we have training in Europe and the amount of money we are spending over there.”

America’s Allies are, Indeed, Contributing to the Fight

President Donald Trump, ratcheting up the “burden sharing” drumbeat of his predecessors, has made clear that “Members of the [NATO] alliance must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations” adding at a May gathering in Brussels that “Twenty-three of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States.”

While he concedes that there’s room for improvement in the security investment of some U.S. allies, General Gronski says that many U.S. allies are contributing to alliance defense in other direct ways, including contribution of forces to multi-national operations and investment in investment in facilities and infrastructure for NATO. Say General Gronski: “Just about every country I visit is on a glide path to increase their spending and get up to 2% of their GDP…. but a lot of these countries are also helping in other ways, many with troops in Afghanistan serving and fighting alongside U.S. troops.”

At the NATO level, General Gronski notes that the Alliance is currently investing $220 million to construct a climate-controlled Army Prepositioned Stock (APS) facility on Povitz Air Base, Poland. This APS site, the fifth of its type in Europe, will accommodate an Armor Brigade Combat Team, and will round out equipment storage for a full armored division in Europe. General Gronski notes that Army is really looking for the Povitz facility “to provide the Army with a forward logistics site for the Baltics Region.”

NATO Forces Train and Operate Together, Today in Eastern Europe

National Guard Forces today train, operate and deploy on the Eastern edge of the Alliance with their NATO brothers in arms. General Gronski notes that four multinational battle groups located in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States respectively, are fully-operational, and fully combat ready. He notes that these four 1200-soldier strong multi-national battle groups, which form part of the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defense in a generation, “really says a lot and really demonstrates the unity that NATO has established to deal with the threat coming from Russia.”