GRAFENWOEHR TRAINING AREA, Germany (AP) — Monday was only the second day for Ukrainian soldiers in the U.S. Army’s new training program, but the message was getting through loud and clear.
These are urgent times. And the lessons they will receive over the next five weeks in weapons, armored vehicles and more sophisticated combat techniques are essential as they prepare to defend their country against Russian invasion.
“This is no ordinary rotation,” U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday afternoon when meeting with commanders. “It’s one of those times when if you want to make a difference, that’s it.”
Milley, who visited the sprawling Grafenwoehr training area to get a first look at the new so-called combined arms training, said it would better prepare Ukrainian troops to launch an offensive or counter any upsurge in Russian attacks.
He spent just under two hours at “Camp Kherson” – a section of the base named after a town in Ukraine where Ukrainian troops won a key victory against Russia last year. More than 600 Ukrainian soldiers began the expanded training program at the camp just a day before Milley’s arrival.
For the first time since the start of the war nearly a year ago, reporters had wide access to watch various parts of the training. Journalists were allowed to follow Milley and watch his interactions with Ukrainian and American troops and commanders, but were not allowed to report specific conversations with Ukrainian forces or take photos or videos. The restrictions reflect continuing US concerns about escalating Russian anger over Western involvement in the war or the outbreak of a wider conflict.
The United States has held training at Grafenwoehr for years, including for Allied forces in Europe. But limited training for Ukrainian forces began last year, shortly after the Russian invasion. At the time, he focused specifically on various weapon systems supplied by the United States, such as the howitzer.
Last month, the Pentagon announced it would expand training in an effort to hone the skills of Ukrainian forces. The five-week course will teach them how to effectively move and coordinate their company and battalion-sized units in combat, using combined artillery, armor and ground forces.
It will include classroom instruction and field work that will start with small squads and gradually expand to involve larger units. It will end with a more complex combat exercise involving an entire battalion and a staff unit.
Training at Grafenwoehr is carried out by the 7th Army Training Command.
Speaking to two reporters traveling with him to Europe on Sunday, Milley said the complex training – combined with an array of new weapons, artillery, tanks and other vehicles heading into Ukraine – will be key to helping the country’s forces to retake territory that was captured by Russia during the nearly 11-month war.
As he walked through the training area on Monday, Milley joked with the troops, asking them about their combat experience and telling them about their mission.
“The urgency was clear,” said Army Col. Dave Butler, Milley’s spokesman. “These soldiers are going to defend their country in battle.”
Milley said on Sunday the goal was for incoming weapons and equipment to be delivered to Ukraine so that the newly formed forces could use them “some time before the spring rains arrive.” That would be ideal.
The new instruction comes as Western analysts point to signs the Kremlin is preparing for a never-ending war and say the Russian military command is preparing for an expanded mobilization effort.
On the other side of the battlefield, Ukrainian forces face heavy fighting in the eastern province of Donetsk, where the Russian military has claimed it controls the small mining town of Soledar. Ukraine says its troops are still fighting, but if troops from Moscow take control of Soledar it would allow them to get closer to the larger town of Bakhmut, where fighting has been raging for months.
Russia also launched a widespread barrage of missile strikes over the weekend, including in Kyiv, in the northeast city of Kharkiv, and in the southeast city of Dnipro, where the death toll in an apartment building has risen to 40.