We met up with Major Freeman while the British Army’s heavy armour was unloaded for a major NATO exercise in Poland
Major Freeman’s deployment to Poland on Exercise Defender started at Gdańsk port, seeing masses of heavy armour, kit and his squadrons recce vehicles being unloaded from the British Army’s RORO (Roll-On Roll-Off Ferry).
Ex Defender is just one of many NATO exercises across Europe this month which sees nearly 10,000 British troops integrating with the international alliance. These exercises are pre-planned and aim to greater increase the alliance’s ability to respond to threats from any direction to protect their people and preserve peace.
We sat down with the Officer Commanding C Squadron Light Dragoons to find out what his squadron had coming up.
Can you just introduce yourself and your role with the Light Dragoons?
“Yeah, sure. My name is Major Freeman. I’m Squadron Leader for C Squadron Light Dragoons.
“It is my first time in Poland, although the squadron has been, in some cases more than once on on a longer term deployment.[Op CABRIT]”
What’s the added significance in the current climate of being able to train like this?
“Well, firstly the greatest importance is our ability to integrate with other nations as part of NATO. We’re all NATO partners, and our ability to test that is of the utmost importance.
“And yeah, I may say in the current climate, there is greater significance to all of that and certainly the soldiers understand that. It changes nothing in terms of how we prepare and how we operate, but deep down there is a greater sense of significance.”
What have we seen already today and what you’re expecting for the rest of the day?
“We’ve seen one of the strategic RORO’s (Roll-On Roll-Off ferry), essentially, a boat has arrived in the port of Gdańsk, having sailed over from Denmark but originally from the UK, where we pre-loaded our vehicles onto.
“It’s come in here and essentially we’ve loaded those vehicles off or disembarked those vehicles, which you can see parked behind us now, which will then enable us to carry on with our our road move and carry on with our exercise as we go forward.”
What is the plan for your road move? where are you heading to and what’s the purpose?
“After today we will move to a camp and integrate with our Polish partners, and then conduct a road move from the centre North of Poland, down south to meet up with 1 Mech Battalion of the Polish 12 Mech Brigade. We then conduct a full road march with them to a training area in the east in order to conduct an exercise integrated with the Polish.”
What’s it like to partner with nations like Poland?
“I suppose it’s something we’re now used to and we all thoroughly understand the importance of it. But ultimately it’s great.
“It’s always great to learn and experience different armies how they work, but ultimately, therefore understand what it all means and the importance of that in supporting NATO. “
“So it’s great, it’s [a] great experience, we learn from [the] Polish, they learn from us, and it’s great to be hosted by them so well in this country.”
What goes on behind the scenes what, what kind of effort does it take to bring all the different moving parts together?
“To the layman’s eye it is simply vehicles rolling off, but a huge amount of work has gone in. So from our perspective, this started when we finished an exercise in the UK. We had to prepare the vehicles to then get them onto a boat from the port in Southampton, back in March.
“Preparing those vehicles is important to get them to make sure they are fit when they get off the boat, making sure they’re clean to pass the customs standards for other countries.
“Then there’s also the kit that enables us to operate effectively, behind us there’s ISO containers full of our equipment from communications equipment, kit that keeps the vehicle going, but also just for standard logistical kit such as, food, water, and clothing, everything that requires us to be self sustained.
“That’s the purpose of this exercise for us, being able to be self sustained for a number of days and weeks in another country.”
What kind of vehicles and capabilities have been unloaded today?
“For us as a light cavalry squadron, we have unloaded the normal fleet of vehicles that we operate on. So Jackal, the high mobility tactical vehicle and it’s Coyote variant, which has an additional wheel, so you can carry more kit on it. Panther command and liaison vehicle, which is a bit like a bigger Land Rover and that has a more technical communication suite so we can communicate further to a greater audience.
“We also have quite a few trucks that again, enable us to be self sufficient throughout our time here, carrying all our stores all our food water, rations, all our spare parts required for when vehicles do occasionally have mechanical issues and also our ability to recover ourselves.
“Finally we have the recovery vehicles and a battlefield ambulance, which is also an essential bit of kit.
“There is also Danish vehicles behind us, they have the Parana, the AFV’s, the armoured fighting vehicles .”
So can you guys slot in if you need to transport with the Danish?
“Completely, the reason they are next to each other is because as part of the deployment we are testing our ability to deploy whilst integrating with another NATO partner. So hence the boat went to Denmark, where we offloaded from a UK boat onto a combined Danish US and UK boat.
“Again demonstrating NATO’s ability to work together, both from a tactical perspective but also from a logistical perspective, which, is fundamental to the end product.
“We’re not going to be able to fight effectively if we can’t get there in the first place, so it’s really what this whole exercise represents.”
What is the strategic importance for having those NATO capabilities? Why is it so important?
“Well, of course, the reasoning behind NATO is self-defence for the alliance. From a strategic perspective, being able to get all those forces from across all the NATO partners throughout Europe and the US.
“It’s vital for us to be able to work together to deploy from our perspective, deploy at reach and to be able to fight NATO’s battle, which again is the self defence of Europe.
“So, testing our ability to integrate together, operate together, that is the strategic importance within NATO, if you weren’t testing it, we wouldn’t know if we were able to do that when it comes to really requiring it.”
“I suppose given the current climate has greater significance, ensuring that we are able to do that.”
What is it that in your eyes sets the British Army apart when it comes to mass mobilisation of troops and armour like this? What does it really take to make it happen?
“I suppose from my perspective as a an Armoured Corps Officer, I would say the end state be able to fight that battle at the end but of course, I know deep down that to get here there’s a huge amount of logistical planning required.
“Our focus on that and our ability to test that regularly, in UK exercises and having a logistical force that has tried and tested their ability to plan and then execute.
“Their ability to deploy troops is really what sets us apart and the fact that we test it regularly, and we are critical of ourselves, you know, we learn lessons to ensure that the next time we do it, we do do it more effectively.
“That’s probably what sets us apart, but at the same time, you know, we’re not perfect, we definitely learn from our multi-national partners in NATO. We learn from them and again, testing it with them means that the end state being able to do it together is possible.”
You’ve just got back from Mali, how is it to to switch environments and switch your focus?
“I suppose it’s years of being quite an operationally active regiment. Those experiences which are then held by the more senior ranks, means they’re able to develop the younger soldiers as they come through. It’s something we’re used to doing.
“In terms of changing environments, it’s again, something we’re used to doing and this isn’t vastly different environment where we are used to training in.
“We’re simply just in a different country. That doesn’t change our tactics, our preparation or nor will it change our execution. So it’s, it’s not as big a deal as it may seem for us.”
What are you most looking forward to on this exercise?
“It is a new environment is and it’s good to test ourselves in this new environment and although I don’t doubt we’ll be able to do it effectively and integrate well with the Polish, who we have worked with before, at least a lot of these soldiers have.
“From my perspective, it’s working with Polish, but also just being with the squadron together, deployed on an overseas exercise.”
“It’s why I joined. I’m sure why many of the soldiers joined and it’s just building experiences with them. As well as testing ourselves in a more challenging environment.”
Major Freeman’s unit make up part of the nearly 10,000-strong UK contribution to major NATO exercises in Europe this month, futher strengthening the alliance’s ability to respond to threats.
Find out where else the UK Armed Forces are deployed here👇
Meet the Officer Commanding a light cavalry squadron deployed to Poland was originally published in Voices Of The Armed Forces on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.