When it came to conducting exercises to practice for the defense of Europe, the U.S. Army couldn't have done the last five without combat engineers from Alabama and Tennessee.
"We had five annual training rotations of Alabama Guardsmen in Romania this summer," U.S. Army Europe Commander Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges said Tuesday at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting. "I would have had zero engineers if not for Alabama – exact same thing for Tennessee. I would have zero engineers doing anything there if not for the Guard doing five sequential AT rotations."
The National Guard and the Army Reserve are both critical to the defense of Europe, he said.
In June, engineer units from Alabama and Tennessee deployed to Bulgaria and Romania to take part in Exercise Resolute Castle. Tennessee's 194th Engineer Brigade set up as the mission command element during the exercise while its 230th Engineer Battalion carried out troop construction in Bulgaria, the Army said.
Alabama's 877th Engineer Battalion provided construction operations in Romania.
But those training deployments were paid for by the European Reassurance Initiative fund, a Department of Defense budget item intended to provide for near-term flexibility and responsiveness to the military situation in Europe.
Hodges said that's unsustainable, and that the U.S. Army's mission in Europe can't be effectively met without the Guard and Reserve forces.
The National Guard, he said, "likes the mission because it's good for recruiting. You get a chance to come and do your two weeks of training in Romania or Lithuania or somewhere like that.
"More importantly, it's important for their readiness," he added, "because they get to train in a place they might actually have to operate."
Hodges said there's nothing wrong with training at U.S. bases – Camp Shelby in Mississippi and Camp Blanding in Florida, for example – but Europe "is a much better training opportunity and I think improves their overall readiness."