US Army’s Wild Dragoon Ride

Throughout this past month NATO has been busy with its “Atlantic Resolve” set of military exercises in Poland and the Baltic states. These are something new, not occurring previously to the first such training deployments there starting last Spring, and, as is evident by the very name, are designed to bolster local morale in those lands against the increasing military misbehavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, military exercises under the same name, also involving American troops (that’s sort of the point), are now getting started in Romania and Bulgaria, and supposedly will include Georgia in May, with US troops set to cross the Black Sea by ferry!

But there is also something else rather new about that Baltic “Atlantic Resolve” as well, now that it’s time for the US troops who trained there to head back to base.

“American convoy stopped in Krakow and Warsaw.” This is truly remarkable, for American troops stationed in Europe generally return to their bases by train – and then usually in the middle of the night, since such transports have lowest priority on any local rail network. Still, and especially for the heavy equipment, that remains the best way to transport these units over long distances.

All that is thrown out the window for “Operation Dragoon Ride,” however, whereby 120 military vehicles and the US soldiers that serve them – from their unit markings it seems they are of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment – are currently making their 1,800 km way back from the Baltics to their base at Vilseck (Bavaria), Germany along the local highways and byways. This article in České noviny discusses how they are currently traversing Poland with, as mentioned, planned stops in Krakow and in Warsaw. In fact, in the latter city (Poland’s capital, of course) they visited the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. And that’s not all their itinerary in Poland: these troops also met up with the inhabitants of the town Drawsko Pomorskie, which only has 11,878 residents in the first place and is way up in northwest Poland, near the Baltic coast – but, you see, the town also is host to a major firing-range and NATO maneuver area just to its South.

This is obviously a major PR operation on the part of the US Army, and it’s a bold one – not only does such travel along highways mean much more wear-and-tear on equipment than would be the case with more conventional rail transport, but military equipment necessarily breaks down every so often, i.e. there is some risk of embarrassment if/when the US convoys start to leave too many of their vehicles behind and the local press, with its photographers, starts to take notice. In any case, this sort of stunt is made possible in the first place due to the fact that the unit clearly employs the Stryker eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle; it would never be possible if it were a question of driving tracked vehicles such as the Abrams tank or the Bradley fighting vehicle over these civilian roads (unless in wartime, of course), as tracked vehicles are hell on whatever asphalt or ground they traverse. The US Army would rather not take up the financial obligation to pay to repair wide stretches of Poland’s (still somewhat minimal, by European standards) highway network!

Finally, the reason the official Czech news agency ČTK is interested in this affair – although it surely has plenty of inherent human interest to appeal to any publication – is that these troops are also scheduled to ride through the Czech Republic as well. Of course that is again to extract maximum PR gains (although indications are that, in the Czech Republic at least, there will be protestors en route), but it’s also justified by geography: just look up Vilseck on your Google Maps, and see it’s relation to Poland and the Baltic states. Indeed (inevitably?), the troops will ride through Prague, on Monday – well, not through Prague (too much commotion, many streets too narrow for such massive vehicles), but around Prague, as you can see on this map. (See that bend in the river to the right? Historical Prague is just below that.)


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