Nemenčinė, Lithuania — NATO member nations have common interests and goals but when they come together in multinational exercises, their languages, practices and perspectives are often very different. Exercise MAPLE ARCH 2015 (Ex MA 15), which took place from November 9 to 20, 2015 at the Lithuanian Army Warfare Training Center in Nemenčinė, Lithuania, was no exception.
Canada and Lithuania were jointly responsible for planning and conducting this year’s edition of the annual exercise. The Canadian Army’s Major Sean Clark, who co-led Ex MA 15 with his Lithuanian counterpart, Major Darius Bernotas, said those differences do present challenges, but collaborating to overcome them brings many rewards.
“Some of the lessons and the skills that we’re trying to impart are based in Canadian doctrine,” said Maj Clark. “Our Lithuanian counterparts also deal in NATO doctrine but they’ve got their own spin on it just the way Canada does. I would say the biggest thing for me is being able to see the Ukrainian battalion commander learn a new way of doing business. And in doing so he says, ‘This is really interesting. I’ve never looked at it from this perspective.’ We certainly have something to learn from them as well.”
“Working with officers from different countries is rewarding in the sense that you can exchange experience and learn from each other,” added Maj Bernotas. “Canadian officers have led the MAPLE ARCH exercises for almost a decade now. So I had a unique opportunity to learn from them as well as to share my experiences planning and conducting such an exercise. I know for sure that these insights will add to my experience as a battalion commander. At the beginning of the exercise, the soldiers faced communication, procedural and some cultural challenges. On the other hand, these challenges became less and less obvious as we progressed with the exercise and established close working relationships.”
Ex MA 15 is an initiative of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program (PfP). Established in 1994, PfP was created to enhance peacekeeping capabilities within the organization. Rather than a full-fledged battle scenario, Ex MA 15 presented a simulated peace support operation. The UN defines peace support as the maintenance of public order, policing, mentoring of security forces, infrastructure reconstruction or national reconciliation.
This year’s exercise brought together a total of 140 troops from Poland, Ukraine, Canada and Lithuania, for a largely computer-generated simulation that challenged the multinational battalion commanders with a hypothetical scenario reflecting the complexities of today’s Eastern Europe.
“In general terms, there are some belligerent gangs and criminal elements that are operating within the area of operations that we’re working in here, and some belligerent military forces as well,” Maj Clark explained. “So this provides the commander with a host of different potential events that could happen. In peace support you’re looking to support the local government by ensuring safety and security within the region, to be seen as working in partnership with the local authorities and support their authority in the region. We also have the flexibility, being a military force, of being able to react to more of a military opponent.”
While strong professional bonds were clearly forged during Ex MA 15, Maj Clark said personal ones also formed, particularly as both Remembrance Day and Poland’s National Independence Day fall on November 11. Not only were Canada’s Ex MA 15 partners glad to mark the day, he added, but other NATOpartners in the area also got involved.
“The Lithuanian Army Commander, Major General Almantas Leika, was very keen when we told him about Remembrance Day that Lithuania, as the host nation, would support any effort to assist us in acknowledging it,” said Maj Clark. “And to be able to participate in a parade where we saw British, Lithuanian, Polish, Canadian and American troops acknowledging that sacrifice together, that was a key for me personally, and demonstrated the resolve that we all share as partners in conforming to the NATO principles.”
Maj Clark added that, as a founding partner in NATO, Canada has an important part to play in maintaining the close relationships that make its existence possible.
“It is a partnership. And in order for partnerships to work properly and effectively we all have to do our part. It’s very much like the concept of justice: not only must it be done but I think it must also be seen to be done. And nothing to me, in my personal view, would exemplify that more than partners standing shoulder to shoulder with one another as they did on November 11.”