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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Guard training for deployment to Poland

A Stryker armored fighting vehicles from the Washington National Guard’s 81st  Brigade Combat Team drives down a dusty road at the Yakima  Training Center on the way to a training exercise in June 2018. The unit will return to the center next month as it prepares for a 2021 deployment to Poland. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington’s largest Army National Guard unit begins training next month for an expected overseas deployment to Eastern Europe in 2021.

The 81st Brigade Combat Team has been put on the list for a yearlong assignment to Poland as part of a multinational force known as Enhanced Forward Presence, said Col. Shaughnessy Hodge, the brigade commander.

While there, the brigade will participate in a series of training exercises with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as some exercises with individual countries, Hodge said. The United States deploys a combat unit to Europe for a year to be available for multiple exercises rather than sending different groups for each individual exercise.

The training will take place in multiple locations throughout the year, but the 81st will be based in two or three locations in Poland, Hodge said.

It will also help with a training academy for noncommissioned officers from the Ukrainian army to help bolster “institutional professionalism,” Hodge said.

The brigade, which is equipped with Stryker armored fighting vehicles, has its headquarters at Camp Murray near Tacoma. It has about 4,000 members assigned to units based in Washington, Oregon and California.

Soldiers will begin preparations for the deployment in June at the Yakima Training Center. Next summer, they will be sent to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, for a second round of training before the one-year deployment in 2021.

The brigade will also be looking to bolster its Eastern European language proficiencies, Hodge said.

The 81st was deployed twice to Iraq for one-year stints, first in March 2004 and again in August 2008. About two years ago, it began making the transition from Bradley fighting vehicles to Strykers.

As that transition ended, the unit knew it was “approaching that window” in which another overseas deployment would be assigned, Hodge said. This would be a different deployment from its two previous assignments to a war zone.

NATO describes Enhanced Forward Presence as a way to place combat-ready units in Eastern Europe “demonstrating the strength of the trans-Atlantic bond.” The alliance has multinational forces along Russia’s western borders, led by the United Kingdom in Estonia, by Canada in Latvia, by Germany in Lithuania and by the United States in Poland.

“The presence makes clear that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole alliance,” a NATO fact sheet on the operation says.