Operation Atlantic Resolve: Change of command in the European theater
During the last week of November 2021 a media event was held in the port of Vlissingen, for the change of two helicopter Aviation Combat Brigades of the U.S. Army for Operation Atlantic Resolve. Lowpass Aviation went to Vlissingen to see what the operations are all about.
Since April 2014, U.S. Army Europe and Africa has led the Department of Defense’s Atlantic Resolve land efforts by bringing units based in the United States to Europe for nine months at any given time. The operation is enabled and funded by the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI). The U.S. Army support to Operation Atlantic Resolve consists of approximately 6.000 soldiers assigned to armored, aviation and logistical task forces overseen by a (forward) division headquarters. Active duty, reserve and national guard units of the U.S. Army rotate from the United States with their helicopters, vehicles and other required equipment for nine months at a time.
These so called heel- to- toe deployments ensure U.S. Army forces maintain a consistent combat – credible presence to deter aggression in the region and is evidence of the strong and persistent U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance and Europe
Deployment and redeployment of the Aviation Combat Brigades
It is Thursday 25 November 2021, it is gray, it’s raining and a strong cold wind is blowing today in the port of Vlissingen. Helicopters and equipment from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood arrived at the Port of Vlissingen in The Netherlands, for their Operation Atlantic Resolve deployment. 39 helicopters, consisting of CH-47 Chinooks, AH-64 Apaches and H-60 Blackhawks and more than 900 equipment items will be staged at the port facility in Vlissingen in the coming days, the helicopters, vehicles and other equipment will be prepared here for onward movement to their forward operating bases in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States. The equipment arrived aboard the commercial roll- on roll- off cargo vessel ARC Endurance following its journey across the Atlantic from the port in Beaumont, Texas. A few days later the other part of the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade arrived in Greece in the port of Alexandroupoli on board the roll-on roll-off cargo vessel ARC Independence. Around 40 helicopters consisting of CH-47 Chinooks, AH-64 Apaches and H-60 Blackhawks from the 1st ACB were offloaded in the port of Alexandroupoli, from here the helicopters will fly to their forward operating bases in Greece and Romania.
Notably, this is the first time an aviation combat brigade has deployed into the port of Vlissingen. Moreover, the port of Vlissingen will also be used to support the redeployment of the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Riley. This is the first time that only one port is used for these operations, in the past the incoming and outgoing brigades used a different port.
While the Texas based 1st Air Cavalry Brigade from Fort Hood was busy with getting their vehicles, helicopters and other required equipment to mainland Europe for their upcoming Atlantic Resolve deployment, the other brigade, the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade from Fort Riley Kansas, was busy with rounding up their deployment in the European theater.After nine months in Europe their deployment ended and they were busy getting all of their helicopters, vehicles and other equipment ready for transport to the port of Vlissingen. Some 58 helicopters of the Demon brigade, 1st CAB which consists of CH-47 Chinook, AH-64 Apache, and H-60 Blackhawk helicopters, vehicles and other equipment which were deployed in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States will be collected in the port of Vlissingen in the coming weeks. From there they will be loaded on the roll- on roll- off cargo vessel ARC Endurance which will return all the equipment back home to the United States.
The U.S. Army aviation combat brigades are working closely together with units from the U.S. Army Europe, The 16th Sustainment Brigade based at Smith Barracks in Baumholder, Germany and the 598th Transportation Brigade based in Sembach, Germany. They are assisting with getting all of the equipment into and out of the port of Vlissingen, and provide reception, staging and onward movement support for over 90 helicopters and approximately 2.000 items of equipment from both rotational aviation combat brigades. They make sure that the loading and the off-loading of the huge vessel will go safe and on time. While the helicopters are flying to their forward operating bases, all of the vehicles and other equipment is going by road. This requires exact planning and is a huge operation. In the port of Vlissingen a special transhipment location was set up at a rented commercial area which was designated as a “temporary military location” and guarded 24/7 by armed personnel units to make sure that the port operations run safely.
After unloading all of the helicopters were sheltered in a big warehouse where the personnel of the 1st ACB checked the helicopters and reconfigured them into flying status. After this was done the helicopters where moved outside and engine test runs where made, after which the helicopters where ready for their fly-out of the port. The helicopters left the port as soon as the weather conditions allowed it. After departure the helicopters flew to Woensdrecht Air Base in the Netherlands. Personnel from the 1st ACB was deployed to the airbase to assist with the flying operations. From here the helicopters will fly to their forward operating bases in Germany, Poland and the Baltic States.
The helicopters from the 1st CAB from Fort Riley were working the other way around and left their forward-operating bases to fly to Gilze-Rijen Air Base in the Netherlands. Personnel of the Demon Brigade was deployed to the airbase to provide support during the flying activities of the helicopters. The helicopters stayed here for between 10 and 14 days, as they had to wait until all of the helicopters from the 1st ACB from Fort Hood had left the port of Vlissingen. After the last helicopters left the port, the helicopters from the outgoing brigade made their last flight in Europe and flew from Gilze-Rijen airbase to the port of Vlissingen where they will be made ready for the trip back to the United States.
Dutch Host Nation Support
The United States asked the Dutch Ministry of Defence for support with the relocation of the 2 Aviation Combat Brigades. A variety of Dutch units were deployed to the Port of Vlissingen to support the port operations, units from the Royal Netherlands Navy will ensure that the vessel can safely enter the port, while the temporary military compound is guarded by armed soldiers of the Royal Netherlands Army. The Royal Netherlands Air Force will be manning the helicopter landing site in the port of Vlissingen and providing an airport crash tender from the Royal Netherlands Air Force fire brigade. The helicopters from the incoming and outgoing brigades making a stop-over at Woensdrecht and Gilze-Rijen Air Base, were guarded and refueled by personnel of the Royal Netherlands Airforce. Possible technical issues with the helicopters can also be addressed at the airbases.
Finally The Dutch Defence will also be offering support behind the scenes, the Dutch military intelligence service (MIVD) has made security analysis for the operations and members of the Joint Support Command (DOSCO) are handling a number of tasks, including transport of U.S. personnel from and to various locations, in addition DOSCO has planned and coordinated the overland transport of American material.
Change off command of the 1st CAB Demon Brigade to the 1st ACB Air Cav Brigade
On December 15 2021 the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division officially ceased it’s colors and handed over the aviation component of Operation Atlantic Resolve to the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. In an official change of command ceremony held at the main forward operating base used for the Atlantic Resolve deployments, at Illesheim Army Airfield in Germany. For the last nine months the 1st CAB has been training with partner and allied military forces across Europe in countries such as Greece, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Poland. They participated in large–scale exercises such as Saber Junction, Agile Spirit, Falcon Leap, Slovak Shield and Defender 21.
Highlight for many soldiers of the 1st CAB was the large-scale exercise Defender 21, this is an annual U.S. Army- led multinational, joint exercise designed to build readiness and interoperability between U.S., NATO partner allied military forces and integrates approximately 28.000 multinational forces from 26 nations. The ‘Demon Brigade’ executed more than 15.000 flying hours and conducted 12 big exercises in 15 different countries during their Atlantic Resolve deployment. They can look back at a more than successful deployment and will depart Europe as a well-trained Brigade.
The 1st Air Cavalry Brigade ‘Air Cav’ is no stranger to Operation Atlantic Resolve, as they served as the Regionally Aligned Force for Atlantic Resolve in the year 2018. They know the importance of the mission, they are ready and look forward to work with their NATO allies and partners in Europe for the next nine months to come.
The authors of Lowpass Aviation.com would like to thank the Public Affairs of US. Army Europe and Africa, and the Dutch Ministry of Defence for their hospitality and help.