US Improving Baltic Transportation Infrastructure

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    Pathfinder Lieutenant Colonel

    Dec 17, 2015
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    Army helping improve Baltic transportation network

    January 22, 2016
    By Gary Sheftick

    WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 22, 2016) -- U.S. Army engineer units are helping Baltic nations improve their roads and transportation infrastructure so they might better respond to the threat of Russian aggression.

    Along with Operation Atlantic Resolve, National Guard units are helping build airfields and construct bridges, said Lt. Col. Steve Dowgielewicz Jr., commander of the 39th Transportation Battalion (Movement Control), based in Germany.

    "You cannot believe ... how fast they are improving the road networks," Dowgielewicz said about Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. He visits the Baltics about once a month and said last year his battalion moved cargo a combined total of 974,000 miles through European countries in conjunction with Atlantic Resolve.

    Dowgielewicz spoke to reporters Thursday during a media roundtable here as part of a current operations engagement tour for the 16th Sustainment Brigade. The 16th STB is currently the only U.S. sustainment brigade in Europe. Last year the brigade supported 51 exercises affiliated with Atlantic Resolve.

    Col. Michelle Letcher, commander of the 16th Sustainment Brigade, said her unit supports a continuous series of exercises from the Baltics to the Black Sea and has a "persistent presence" in 16 European nations including Poland, Kosovo and Ukraine. Her brigade also supports operations in Africa.

    Last year the brigade had 54,000 international border crossings requiring the same number of diplomatic clearances to be processed by her movement control teams, Letcher said.

    While U.S. European Command has downsized from a high of 300,000 troops to its current size of about 30,000, Letcher said with Atlantic Resolve, the mission is just as substantial as ever.

    "What we have to do is make 30,000 look and feel like 300,000," she said.

    One of the ways to accomplish this is by rotating National Guard and Army Reserve units through Europe to assist with support, she said. For example, the National Guard State Partnership Program has 21 states partnered with 22 nations.

    In addition, the 4th Infantry Division provides a regionally allocated force to assist with mission command and is co-located with the 16th STB headquarters in Baumholder, Germany. A brigade from Fort Stewart, Georgia, also provides units to support exercises in Europe, she said.

    "Right now, we are able to fulfill the missions we are asked to do," Letcher said. "Now any commander would tell you they want more resources" to speed support.

    With the high operations tempo of the brigade, junior Soldiers and NCOs get a lot of responsibility and leadership experience, Letcher said. And every year there's about a 35 percent turnover of Soldiers, said Command Sgt. Maj. Maveric Ledbetter.

    Partnering with other European countries is another way to extend the impact of the brigade, Letcher said. For instance, movement control personnel are nested with host nations such as Poland. NATO Force Integration units are currently in six nations, she said.

    "Right now, anything we do, we do with allies," she said. "We don't do anything alone."

    Interoperability is a big part of what the brigade strives for on a daily basis, Letcher said. She provided the example of Exercise Strident Juncture in Spain in which the 515th Transportation Company worked with six different nations to provide bulk fuel for operations.

    "We don't have all the same standardized equipment and the same sized hoses, for instance," said Capt. Nicholas Greco, commander of the 515th. He said his Soldiers had to hook up adapters from three different countries to move fuel "from one bag farm of the Italians to a Polish truck," for instance.

    Last year, Greco said his company delivered 1.4 million gallons of fuel over 432,000 miles through 16 different countries. His company is part of the 39th Transportation Battalion, which Dowgielewicz emphasized moved cargo almost 1 million miles last year -- the equivalent of traveling about 39 times around the globe.

    Dowgielewicz said the improving transportation infrastructure in the Baltic nations has facilitated that movement. That infrastructure had already been growing, but Atlantic Resolve has expedited that process and caused it to happen faster, he said.

    "The threat of Russian aggression is driving them to lean forward," he said.

    Last year, Dowgielewicz said he noticed dramatic improvement in the roads between Lithuania and Estonia. Roads were straightened, shoulders were built, more fuel stations and rest areas were constructed.

    The Baltic states are considering changing their rail system to the European standard, Dowgielewicz said. Currently, trains cannot go from Poland to Lithuania because the gauge of the rails is different, he explained. Equipment must be moved to different railcars or the wheels changed because Lithuania has broad-guage tracks.

    "Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as an example, are already as countries showing the desire and the commitment to change the rail gauge," he said.

    "Something like that sounds simple," he said, but added that changing to the European standard increases the capacity to transport equipment faster.

    At the end of the day, he said improving transportation infrastructure improves national security because military equipment and forces can be moved more readily.

    Amid Russian Military Aggression, US Builds Roads, Training Facilities In 6 Eastern European Nations


    U.S. Army engineers will construct miles of roads and several training facilities across six Eastern European NATO nations by September, a report released Monday says. The attempts to improve military infrastructure are part of continuing U.S. efforts to reaffirm support for Eastern European allies amid increased Russian aggression in the region.

    Starting in May, the U.S. engineers and contractors began work on improved roads, tank trails and new training facilities in the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, the Army Times reported.
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