‘You do know that my wife will be 36 weeks pregnant by then?’ Was my first thought when I was offered to go to Norway for two weeks on Exercise TRIDENT JAGUAR. But I was persuaded and so on the Saturday morning of May Bank Holiday weekend I went to the HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC) at Imjin Barracks near Gloucester (formerly RAF Innsworth) and met up with some 50 other individual augmentees from across the country.

A short trip to Heathrow and a flight to Stavanger later and we were introduced to our room mates, sharing bunks in 6-man rooms on a Norwegian basic training camp called KNM Harald Haarfagre, named after the first King of Norway who ruled in the late 9th Century. Next morning we were introduced to a typical Norwegian breakfast; bread and ryvita with meat and fish pastes and pate; or jam, or sliced sausages, cheeses and pickled gherkins and beetroot. There was also a rather strange rubbery brown cheese called brunost – literally ‘brown cheese’, which is definitely an acquired Scandinavian taste! Later we found that lunch and dinner in the Norwegian military usually consists of fish and potatoes or beef or lamb with potatoes and veg.

Work started on the Sunday morning with a series of introductory lectures and training packages; we used only NATO computer systems during the whole exercise, which were entirely new to most of us. Our role was further developed and explained to us, we would be the Exercise Control (EXCON) for the event, providing injects and responding to requests from the HQ ARRC who were the ones actually being tested. They would go through the actions required to deploy and sustain a multi-divisional HQ in support of a NATO operation. The scenario is key to such events and this one was particularly good, with lots of in depth background and thoughtful twists planned into it. It needed to be robust and flexible – it was the catalyst for a series of over 350 injects and sub-plots that would be played out over the actual week of the exercise!

The main crux of the situation was that in the fictitious and fairly corrupt republic of ARNLAND (southern Sweden) a breakaway faction lead by a Marxist separatist was using an illegal militia to conduct terrorist attacks across the region. This required a military intervention into the heart of the insurgents training area, whilst maintaining peaceful relations and a ‘non-occupational’ reaction in the local population. The HQ ARRC was tested with a wide range of difficult and complex sub-tasks, everything from aircraft being shot or forced down, to fuel contamination and manning and engineering issues, through a whole spectrum of social and political requirements (foot and mouth outbreaks, defectors, political wranglings, riots, protestors and disagreements over fishing rights).

The media played an important part in the Exercise; there was even a team of experts producing professional quality news reports and online articles purely based on scenario information – it certainly helped the exercise players to get ‘in the frame’. Senior staff on the Exercise also got to practice their media briefing skills, which led to one less fortunate quote “we want to get our aircrew back. They cost a fortune to train!”

I was established into an Aviation Cell within the Land command as part of a team of four responsible for all planning, tasking and execution of exercise helicopter sorties, and for responding to aviation-based injects during the exercise. As well as myself, an information specialist, we had a logistician from Odiham and two operators from the Army’s helicopter tactics advisory team (AMPTAT) based at Warminster. In the wider Land component were a range of specialist units including police, engineers and an entire Danish Army Divisional Headquarters – quite a wide team to work with and gain experience from!

In total some 600 personnel took part in the exercise, representing 14 nations from across NATO. The state of the art facilities at the Joint Warfare Centre were complimented by an older bunker facility, the foundations of which were laid by the Germans in WWII! The whole site is dominated by a wooded hilltop called Jatta, originally the site of an ancient Viking wooden hillfort. The region is also famous for the ‘Battle of the Three Swords’ in the late 9th Century AD, which saw three warring Viking tribes unite to fight off their enemies and was a key event in the foundation of modern Norway.

With a population of almost 250,000 Stavanger is Norway’s fourth largest city. We typically worked 12 hour days in the bunker so socialising after work was not common. Downtown Stavanger does have some good haunts, and beer is not cheap, but the locals are friendly and gregarious and are always grateful if you take an interest in local life. The final day saw us let out and we explored the local area for a few hours before flying back to Heathrow. I had arranged an MT driver and so got home in short order (thank you MT Control!), others had to go back to Imjin Barracks and self drive from there.

The JWC facility is run by a NATO 2-Star on a rotational basis, currently a Major General in the German Army. The HQ ARRC is commanded by a 3-Star General, currently from the British Army. Of note, the ARRC is a disparate organisation with the HQ in the UK and Rapid Reaction Brigades across Europe. Whilst the organisation is therefore multinational and quite complex, I was enormously impressed by the professionalism and dedication of all the personnel involved.

Overall it was an excellent and unique opportunity to work with NATO partners in a wide-ranging operational context. It certainly helps to have your admin squared away and to be quick-thinking and proactive on an exercise of this scale, lest you get left behind! As a Flt Lt I was ‘only’ six ranks behind the top person there, but I felt involved from the very start. I would strongly recommend that others get involved in NATO exercises wherever and whenever they can. They come with caveats but they are a unique and brilliant way of working with and making friends with a very wide range of military personnel from across Europe and North America, and of gaining military experience in the wider NATO context.

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