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NEWS | June 20, 2024

29th Infantry Division leads multinational wet gap crossing in Poland

By 1st. Lt. James M. Lanza 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs

Polish, British and United States military forces came together for a wet gap crossing under the command and control of the Virginia National Guard’s Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division May 8, 2024, at the Drawsko Combat Training Center in Poland as part of U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s DEFENDER 24 exercise. The exercise, tied closely to NATO’s Steadfast Defender exercise, brought together nearly 40,000 service members from over 20 partner nations to train, test and validate the alliance’s ability to field and command a combat credible force in the European theater.

“This training includes one of the largest wet gap crossings by multi-national armored and mechanized forces in recent memory,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph A. DiNonno, Commanding General of the 29th Infantry Division. "This breeds confidence in our ability to work together and more importantly, to rapidly create multiple dilemmas for our enemy. It was an outstanding training event that tested not only the tactical approach to large-scale combat but the formidable logistical challenges inherent in moving large forces across diverse terrain.”

DiNonno said it an absolute honor to work with such well trained and dedicated partners from both the UK and Poland. 

“Our Officers, NCOs and Soldiers learned as much from them as they did from us,” he said.  “These experiences build generational readiness and must be repeated often. Future wars will be fought with our allies and partners.”

Troops from the three nations all had their own unique resources, standard operating procedures and unit cultures, but they found themselves united at wet gap crossing.

Early in the morning on May 8, Polish paratroopers from the 6th Airborne Brigade launched a small pathfinding operation before sunrise, as they parachuted down to the small patch of earth on the east bank of the Drawa River outside Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland.
Simultaneously an assortment of U.S. M1 Abrams main battle tanks and Bradley Infantry Fighting vehicles stood at the ready, flanked by Challenger 2 tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles from the United Kingdom’s 12th Armoured Brigade. Each group waiting for word that the 36th Engineer Brigade had given the green light for the multinational combat force to cross the river only a few hundred miles from NATO’s easternmost flank.
Tucked under camouflage netting a few kilometers away sat a handful of Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division tied to the large digital map on the wall before them, reading through initial reports from the pathfinder team, monitoring enemy movements and coordinating movements of M777 howitzers and High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems to the rear of the massive array of tanks, engineering assets and personnel assembled on the Drawa River.
For the 29th Infantry Division Soldiers, most of whom had only stepped foot in Poland for the first time a few days earlier, this exercise was designed to stress and prepare the headquarters staff as they coordinated a multinational wet gap crossing in notionally contested battlespace. The exercise also included live-fire exercises and tactical operations based on a scenario of responding to and repelling an invading force from Poland.

While led by Soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division, the effort quickly became a joint and multinational one with daily interfaces with service members from Poland and the United Kingdom.
“It was surprising how well we were able to integrate these international allies into a cohesive fighting force,” said U.K. Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Tom Ginger, liaison officer with the 29th Infantry Division. “Each force has small difference we have to learn, from culture to planning, and this training helps us overcome those procedural difference and work together.”
For many leaders in the 29th, these challenges contributed to the value of the training for staffs.
“Putting an entire brigade into the field involves physical movement and lots of people with different priorities, which creates natural friction impossible to simulate,” said Lt. Col. Jon Cochran, deputy operations officer for the 29th ID. “Despite this friction, we were still able to demonstrate our ability to contribute to an allied mission on NATO’s east flank and accomplish a wet gap crossing, which at this scale, is one of the most challenging operations a unit can do.”
For a unit which had recently deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Spartan Shield, this large-scale deployment of Soldiers and systems to Europe provided the headquarters with valuable training to exercise mission command. While unique when compared to previous overseas training conducted by the division, the lessons and experiences gained from Defender 24 in Poland are universal for headquarters staff focused on coordinating resources, conducting analysis and issuing orders to subordinate units.

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