COVID-19 scuttles massive military drill in Europe, leaves Utah Army Reservists at home

The 807th Medical Command’s deployment to Defender-Europe 20 was canceled as the military tries to protect its forces from the coronavirus pandemic. SALT LAKE CITY — The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted a massive, multinational training exercise involving the large-scale deployment of U.S. troops — including a Utah-based Army Reserve unit — to defend Europe from a simulated invasion by a Russia-like adversary. Instead of mobilizing to Europe, soldiers from Salt Lake City’s 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) Headquarters will remain stateside as the U.S. military attempts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus through its forces. Around 100 soldiers from the unit were slotted to deploy for the colossal exercise, the Army Times reported. Defender-Europe 20 — a mock, U.S.-led NATO action against an enemy of similar size and capabilities — would have been

the largest deployment of American troops to Europe since shortly after the Cold War. Defender was technically underway, albeit in the early stages, and has not been formally canceled. However, it is unlikely to occur at anything resembling its original scope, as military leaders respond to a changing environment. “The 807th MC(DS) is supporting guidance regarding travel restrictions. This means the command will no longer be taking part in the Defender-Europe 20 exercise as a precautionary measure to protect the health of our personnel, their families and the local community,” said Capt. Sherrain Reber, a spokeswoman with the unit, on Friday. Some members of the unit are civilian medical professionals and not all the soldiers assigned to the headquarters reside in Utah, Reber said. The 807th is the largest medical command in the reserves and units within its command have conducted medical and humanitarian missions both stateside and around the globe, according to the unit. The 807th would have set up and staffed a command post for Defender, which was originally expected to involve around 37,000 service members from 18 countries. Around 20,000 soldiers, and just as many pieces of equipment, would have deployed from the United States. But, the global novel coronavirus pandemic forced the Army to change its plans. 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) @807thmcds Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 807th MC(DS), loads containers in preparation for their medical Operational Command Post mission for #DEFENDEREurope 20, Ft. Douglas, Utah, January 18, 2020. View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter 40 8:25 PM - Feb 25, 2020 Twitter Ads info and privacy See 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)'s other Tweets Defender began with the deployment of equipment from the United States on Jan. 23, U.S. Army Europe said in a statement to Deseret News. As of Feb. 25, the 807th Medical Command was still prepared to mobilize its Salt Lake City headquarters, based on a post to their Twitter account. The tweet shows a command post being prepared to deploy in a shipping container. But on March 11 — the same day the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic — U.S. Europe Command announced it would be downsizing the exercise. “In light of the current coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants,” said U.S. Europe Command in a statement. “The health protection of our force, and that of our allies and partners, is a top concern. We take the coronavirus outbreak seriously and are confident that by making this important decision we’ll continue to do our part to prevent the further spread of the virus,” the statement says. U.S European Command ✔ @US_EUCOM After careful review of the ongoing #DefenderEurope 20 exercise activities and in light of the current #Coronavirus outbreak, we will modify the exercise by reducing the number of U.S. participants: https://www. eucom.mil/news-room/pres srelease/41087/exercise-defender-europe-20-update …@USArmyEurope View image on Twitter 184 11:03 PM - Mar 11, 2020 Twitter Ads info and privacy 163 people are talking about this Although some U.S.-based troops and equipment had begun to arrive in Europe, travel from the states was suspended on March 13. The announcement seemed to cause some confusion within the Army and it would be a week until the 807th was able to confirm it would no longer participate in the exercise. The Army and its allies have never identified the exercise’s antagonist, but the massive troop movement appears to drill the militaries’ response to an adversary in eastern Europe. “Defender means there is a need to defend. Defend from whom?” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when asked about the European exercise by Russian state media in early February. Lavrov acknowledged that the U.S. and NATO have never named Russia as Defender’s foe, but said it was difficult imagine what enemy the sizable force was preparing to drill against. “We cannot ignore these processes that raise great concern, but we will respond without creating any unnecessary risks,” the foreign minister told the Rossiyskaya Gazeta A spokesman for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) — NATO’s military operations command — acknowledged the U.S.-led exercise was being modified due to the coronavirus. “The aim is to avoid the spread of the virus and to mitigate the impact on our soldiers and the respective populations,” said German Army Lt. Col. Thomas Supe, a public affairs officer at SHAPE, in a statement sent to Deseret News. Defender was scheduled to take place in at least seven European countries — Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — that, like the United States, have experienced dramatic rises of COVID-19 cases this last week. Supe added that the coronavirus’s current impact on Defender “does not affect the ability of our forces to respond to threats — now or in the future.” He said that daily operations at SHAPE have continued and measures have been taken to reduce the spread of the virus.807th MC(DS) soldiers use a fork lift to pick up containers to transport equipment for the medical Operational Command Post mission for DEFENDER-Europe 20 in Fort Douglas, Utah, on February 18, 2020. U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Ronald D. Bell “At this time,” Reber said Friday, “the command is working closely with Army Reserve headquarters and encourages all of our soldiers to follow force health protection and CDC guidance.” A spokesperson for the U.S. Army Reserve command said “Battle Assemblies” — training conducted by Reserve units — had been indefinitely suspended to protect soldiers, their families and the community from the spread of the coronavirus. source: deseret

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