American & German cooperation with a Canadian connection
10th in a series by Tom Rozman
A forward deployed mechanized infantry battalion, one of the ten maneuver battalions assigned to its parent armored division in Germany, had a unique mission in its Army Corps Area if the General Defense Plan (GDP) were to be activated.
It would position on the right flank of the corps to secure the frontier shoulder to shoulder with a German panzergrenadierbatallion on the left flank of the adjacent German Corps. The importance of having the ability to operate smoothly with this battalion during initial operations and all necessary training was beyond obvious.
Consequently, measures were needed to build the strongest bonded relationship between the two units. In its way, building an effective relationship required a unique form of leadership.
What developed is perhaps a classic case of how to build such a relationship. This article deals with a roughly two-year period in that relationship. It is a remarkable example of applied leadership in a non- typical but necessary environment.
The battalion commander was a German speaker born in Silesia (now Poland). His father died on the Eastern Front in WW II. He had immigrated to Canada as a small boy and later while serving as an infantry NCO in a Canadian Brigade decided on expiration of his term of service to enlist in the United States Army.
In the U. S. Army he had risen through the ranks to lieutenant colonel and was a decorated airborne ranger infantry officer with multiple combat tours. He had graduated from the resident Army Command and General Staff College and held a masters degree. But he was a no nonsense commander who maintained iron discipline and one of the strongest physical training and readiness training programs at battalion level in the division.
The American commander’s approach to building and sustaining a multi-level partnership program with the German battalion was committed and dynamic. It rested on several elements—Social engagement, regular training exchanges, participation in unit significant events at partnership unit garrisons, maximum use of the training centers in the Army area to jointly maneuver and experience gunnery, and conduct joint tactical exercises without troops (TEWT) in the GDP area and command post exercises.
This approach was comprehensive and, given the unusually busy garrison life of mechanized units in Germany at the time, very ambitious. Just a “density” (a term applied to multi-week unit deployments to the training centers) of two to three weeks at a major training center like Grafenwoehr for gunnery or Hohenfels for maneuver was a two to three hour road deployment from garrison and as was increasingly the practice to avoid German civilian fatalities on the Autobahn, significant cost and planning to move the battalions armored vehicles by rail to the centers.
As well, the garrison of the German battalion was a good three hour ride by car. To further add to the challenge, there was a second partnership battalion, the panzerbatallion that had been succeeded in the German Corps’ flank mission. For a number of reasons this relationship was considered important maintain.
The fluency of the U. S. battalion commander in German was a major benefit in building and sustaining the relationship, Additionally, there were other proficient German speakers in the American battalion and a number of English speakers in the German battalion. During the period considered here eight social events shared by the battalions at each others garrisons in the nature of dining ins, balls, receptions, and celebrations occurred. The units developed excellent rapport between the officers and many of the non-commissioned officers. Three densities at Hohenfels were conducted for some five to six weeks of deployed joint training. Some dozen small unit training exchanges were conducted at the troop level. Some three TEWT/CPX exercises were held and soldiers from each battalion participated in significant events such as changes of command in the partnered battalion.
Through this engaged approach, the officers and soldiers of the two battalions achieved a close relationship of mutual respect and regard. More so, they learned each other’s personalities—their military personalities such that operating aside each other became comfortable and natural. The two unit officer corps had bonded on more than one dining in—they knew and respected each other as friends and comrades.
As a model of how to develop a solid and close relationship with an organization, especially one from another Army and culture—this on the ground example has much to offer. Most significantly, even though it thankfully did not have to demonstrate its effectiveness in the ultimate test, it worked. It was a unique tour-de-force of a leader and his style of leadership that produced a solid success.