Poland is one of the most powerful new NATO members, and works hard to prove its value to the alliance. One of the events it organizes is the annual Exercise Puma, and Puma 15, which ended on 29 May, was the largest yet. A three-nation exercise, it involved battalion-strength units from the US, Polish and French armies, and gave a valuable opportunity to practice full-on armored assaults. That’s something most NATO armies don’t get to do often enough, particularly the European members, but Poland’s Drawso Pomorskie training area is ideally suited for them.
I was on the first-ever NATO exercise at Drawsko Pomosrskie, Ex Ulan Eagle 1, back in 1996. I’d only been a regular soldier for a couple of years and most of my service had been spent preparing for, or deployed to, Bosnia; now I got to join an exercise on a scale the British Army hadn’t done since the last days of the Cold War. Best of all, it was on a former Warsaw Pact training area.
The exercise was fun. Not sure exactly how to host British troops, the Poles had laid on a nice little coffee shop near the brigade HQ that also sold rather good beer in the evening. That certainly had its appeal, but so did the training area itself. There was the terrifying Spetsnaz assault course, with its 40-foot walls. There was the brief panic when someone, in the process of digging a trench, started unearthing old Soviet chemical protective suits. We knew the Soviets occasionally exercised with live agents, and until someone verified that the suits were only contaminated with CS gas there was a hint of nervousness in the air. Most interesting of all was a row of old T-55s mocked up with sheet steel to look like NATO tanks; Leopard Is, Chieftains, M60s. It was a reminder that although the Poles were now NATO members it was less than a decade since they’d been exercising on that same ground alongside the Soviets, and that the enemy they’d been training to fight was us.
Now the Poles are firm allies, and what was the Soviet army is training a lot further east than it used to. It’s on the march again, though, and after years of decline its capabilities are rapidly growing. Coupled with Putin’s new doctrine of war by remote control, provoking separatist movements to reduce a neighbor to chaos then ratcheting up the involvement of Russian regulars without ever making a decisive move that can be challenged, the threat to the west is higher than it’s been at any time since 1990. That’s not even considering the festering mess of the Middle East, which might be an even greater threat. NATO is important again and its members need to put some serious effort into remaking the defensive shield that the alliance presented through the Cold War. This is no time for American neo-isolationism or European budget-shaving; the message to take away from Exercise Puma 15 is that if the western democracies don’t stand together we’ll fall separately.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.