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Jan 25 2021

NATO corps build trust in Black Sea region during Defender 2021 academics week

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Matthew Van Wagenen, deputy chief of staff for operations of NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps in the United Kingdom, shares warfighting concepts with multinational troops during a senior leader academics seminar in Bucharest, Romania, Jan. 19, 2021, as MNC-SE prepares for a Defender Europe 21 command post exercise. (Photo by British Army Lance Corporal Kristina Bradley)
Multinational officers from NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps and Multinational Corps Southeast collaborated in a senior leader academics seminar in Bucharest, Romania, as MNC-SE prepares for a Defender Europe 21 command post exercise.

The weeklong event started Jan. 18, 2021 as part of the continued support from the ARRC, NATO’s warfighting corps at readiness, to MNC-SE, NATO’s newest corps, building to attain initial operational capability as part of NATO’s force structure to defend allies and deter aggression from adversaries.

The academic program explored critical thinking about corps warfighting, modern planning approaches, wargaming and operational assessments to enable coordination and synchronization between multinational partners.

“This is one of the most intellectually stimulating academic weeks I’ve ever participated in,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Matthew Van Wagenen, the ARRC’s deputy chief of staff for operations. “The real big success was the collaborative work done by multinational break-out groups, which included all ranks, to run through operational design methodology.”

Romanian Naval Forces Captain Liviu Strambeanu, the MNC-SE branch head for Business Information Management, said the event was above his expectations and provided an opportunity to interact and share on important issues beneficial for both headquarters.

“As our organization develops, being a regional corps HQ, it has to look not only in the land domain, but has to look on all the other operational domains,” Strambeanu said. “I appreciate very much the level of interactivity and exchange of ideas. This supports, a lot I believe, our efforts to become a learning organization, because being a learning organization not only drives your development, but supports your aim to become an adaptable organization.”

The program was developed jointly by Romanian Army Col. Irinel Apostolescu, MNC-SE Plans and Assessment chief, and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Arnel P. David, an army strategist serving as the lead event planner at the Gloucester, United Kingdom, based ARRC.

"We really went all out as a team to bring in world-class scholars, thought leaders, and military professionals for dynamic and engaging sessions,” said David. “A number of lectures and interactive discussions drove a rich debate on the balance of art and science in war across all its dimensions. Our Romanian partners are thinking critically about how they intend to organize and operate as they build their new corps.”

A key line of effort for the ARRC and NATO is engagement. The week demonstrated how multiple nations in the alliance can converge in the Black Sea region to refresh thinking about how they intend to operate, compete, deter, and fight together.

“I was proud to see young and old officers from this new corps engage in an intellectual debate about influence operations and strategic communications,” said U.S. Army Col. James P. Smith, the ARRC’s chief of Information Operations. “It was illuminating.” Smith provided a block of instruction on strategic communications that led to a dialogue on their approach.

Other topics included decision-making in the information age by Dr. Robert Johnson and assessments and wargaming from Dr. Stephen Coulson, both scholars from the University of Oxford’s Changing Character of War Centre.

“I was delighted to see the level of energy and enthusiasm from the audience,” said Johnson. “Their leaders are clearly thinking about how they will conduct mission command on a fast-paced and lethal battlefield.”

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Neil Hollenbeck, commander of 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Squadron, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, presented a U.S. Army future concept of warfighting titled “Reconnaissance Strike Battle,” which sparked an interactive discussion with the corps commanders engaging with multiple questions. Hollenbeck, serving at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, explained in detail how a small team of strategic studies group fellows under Gen. Mark A. Milley, then chief of staff of the U.S. Army, used research and wargaming that developed innovative concepts that were later referenced to help build U.S. Army Futures Command.

Under the continued challenges of a crippling pandemic, the event proved that NATO can operate securely and safely during a period of turbulent change and restrictions. The level of trust and increasing relationships contribute to a stronger foundation for this new corps that will serve as a key hub of activity in the Black Sea region.

Story by NATO Allied Reaction Corps

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