This weekend, I had the distinct honor of visiting our men and women of the Tennessee Army National Guard serving overseas in Poland and Ukraine before they return home from a nine-month deployment. Too often, non-combat deployments can be overlooked and I wanted to let these brave Americans know their missions are critical to the national security of the United States. The 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) headquartered in Knoxville is one of just two heavy ACRs still in existence. The motto of the 278th is "I Volunteer, Sir" - a spirit that I saw embodied in each soldier I met with throughout the weekend.
I began my trip by sitting down with Lieutenant General Cavoli, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Europe. There we discussed the ongoing Exercise Austere Challenge and the importance of these exercises in increasing interoperability with our partners to enhance warfighting readiness as we prepare for the future fight. He complimented the good work of the 278th in both Ukraine and Poland and I was proud to relay that message to our troops.
In Orzysz, Poland, Ambassador Georgette Mosbacher met me at the U.S. Battlegroup Poland where we learned about the Enhanced Forward Presence Mission (eFP), in which the 278th ACR forward deploys one trained and ready Squadron Battlegroup in order to assure our allies and deter our adversaries.
The 278th ACR is the first Armor centric maneuver force to support this mission, and as such has paved new ground and discovered new challenges. I had the opportunity to hear lessons learned from Exercise Bull Run earlier this year, in which we demonstrated the capability to rapidly deliver multinational forces to decisive terrain. Our Tennesseeans also learned quite a bit about operating in the subzero Polish winter. The work of the eFP is vitally important to maintaining territorial integrity in the region and I am proud that the 278th is a part of this mission.
The following day, I traveled out to the Joint Multinational Training Group - Ukraine (JMTG-U) in Lviv, Ukraine. There, the 278th ACR directly trains Ukrainian Armed Forces and National Guard units. The transformation of these Ukrainian forces to Western Army Doctrine and NATO standards of mission command is a vital task as U.S. Army Europe realigns its mission to fight together with strategic partners against a near peer adversary. I had the privilege of shaking each soldier's hand and awarding Congressional coins to five men and women of particular distinction.
I was also impressed with the improvement the soldiers made to their facilities. One of the unique strengths of the Guard is the soldiers' wide variety of civilian professions. In Ukraine, carpentry skills were put to use to construct an outdoor activity area and to enhance the dining facilities. The 101st Airborne will take over this mission later this year, and I know that they will be grateful for these improvements.
In both sites, I sat down in the chow hall for lunch with our soldiers. There we discussed issues affecting their everyday lives - including retirement age, benefits and pay, and the increasingly high tempo of National Guard operational deployment. I will bring back the knowledge I gained from these conversations to my work on the Senate Armed Services Committee, to ensure that we address these issues head on.
You can see more pictures from my trip on my Facebook page.
I want to thank all of the men and women who welcomed me to Poland and Ukraine this weekend. I hope that I brought a small taste of Tennessee to our soldiers, and look forward to welcoming them back home later this year.