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CDR EMBEDDED – Lieutenant-Colonel DANNY VINCENT

CDR EMBEDDED – Lieutenant-Colonel DANNY VINCENT

BY JOETEY ATTARIWALA

LCol Vincent addresses battle group members at Camp Adazi, Latvia on June 17, 2023 Credit: Cpl. Lynette Ai Dang, eFB BG Latvia Imagery Section, CAF

Lieutenant-Colonel DANNY VINCENT

Commanding Officer of the enhanced Forward Presence
(eFP) Battle Group Latvia

As part of this Army focused issue of CDR, we sent Senior Staff Writer, Joetey Attariwala, to speak with the Canadian Commander of the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia, to learn about their mission, the threat environment, their posture, and plans for the transition into a brigade. Here is that discussion.

CDR: Lieutenant Colonel Vincent, thank you for taking the time to speak with me and to share your perspective of the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group (eFP BG) Latvia. What is your position here, and who do you report to?

LCol Vincent: I’m more than happy to speak with you Joetey, to share the good work that the Canadian soldiers and all the NATO soldiers are doing here. It really is team NATO and I’m continually impressed by the international presence in the Baltics, and the contributions of all the countries. I work for the Latvian Mechanized Infantry Brigade Commander, he is my tactical boss here on the ground, and when it comes to NATO deterrence and defence activities, I report to the Latvian Brigade Commander.

CDR: How would you describe the security environment of Eastern Europe in the context of why the Canadian-led eFP Battle Group is in Latvia?

LCol Vincent: I’ll start by saying that Latvia, where we are based, is a beautiful country, and the entire region is incredible. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling throughout the Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — and they’re incredibly beautiful countries, so it really is an honor to be here. The security environment in this region of the world is very clear to me. The nation of Latvia is keenly aware that they are neighbours with Russia and Belarus. They are experiencing a change in security environment given the two invasions of Ukraine starting in 2014 and then the most recent one in 2022. Latvia shares a land border with both Belarus and Russia, and that poses security concerns. Throughout the Baltic region, there have been some security concerns with respect to migration across the border from Belarus, which has been in the media. So, I’d say that the security situation while on a daily basis, walking through the streets of Riga, you may not feel it, but it is certainly there, and the people of Latvia are keenly aware that the security situation in the region is likely forever changed.

CDR: Please describe the makeup of the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group that Canada leads. How many of those individuals across the Battle Group make up the actual fighting force versus the support or administrative element? 

: The Battle Group will continue to evolve as NATO looks to expand the eFP

LCol Vincent: The enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia is an exceedingly large unit made up of approximately 1,370 soldiers. It’s made up of 10 nations — it’s a very diverse group with a lot of combat capability. I have Canadian infantry, there’s Spanish infantry and tanks, Italian infantry and tanks, Polish tanks, and a recently arrived Canadian tank squadron. I also have Canadian Artillery, Spanish artillery, Slovakian artillery, and there’s also a multinational artillery element from Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Montenegro. I’ve also got in the Battle Group, Spanish engineers, coupled with Italian engineers and engineers from Czechia. We’ve got a multinational Combat Support Company made up of Canadian and Italian reconnaissance, Spanish electronic warfare, Italian air defence, Albanian explosive ordnance disposal, and I’ve also got a multinational Combat Support Company. So, you can tell that is a formidable formation of soldiers, and certainly not doctrinal in Canadian terms, nor in NATO terms. What we have created here under the NATO flag is an incredibly capable combat formation with a lot of equipment and a lot of combat soldiers. I don’t make the distinction between combat and non-combat because every soldier is a soldier, and I expect every soldier to be proficient with their weapon system, whether they drive a truck or they drive a tank. I mean, certainly, it’s important that I have trucks that can fuel the tanks and soldiers that can fix the artillery, but every soldier is a soldier in this Battle Group and we prioritize readiness.

CDR: I think that’s a fair statement. There are a number of enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups, and I think a few more are being formed, so does the Canadian-led Battle Group in Latvia differ from some of the other enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups?

LCol Vincent: I have regular conversations with the other Battle Group Commanders about our shared similarities and differences. From a similarity standpoint, we are all multinational Battle Groups with quite a bit of combat capability. I think that the key difference that exists with this Battle Group in particular is the fact that we’ve got 10 nations working together. And it’s 11 nations if you take into account our civilian counterparts from Iceland that contribute to the NATO mission here in Latvia. But from a military perspective, I’ve got soldiers from 10 nations, and it’s incredible to be able to work with all those nations and to train with all the soldiers from all over NATO to create a cohesive team. I think that the key difference and our point of pride is that we take 10 nations with diverse capabilities and we work very hard to ensure that we’re one cohesive team to ensure that we’re ready to deliver with respect to operational readiness.

COLLABORATION & COORDINATION

CDR: In that context, how much collaboration, coordination and interaction is there between the different Battle Groups that exist today?

LCol Vincent: There’s quite a bit. We certainly communicate regularly and coordinate our training schedules. For example, right now eFP Battle Group Latvia is hosting Exercise IRON SPEAR, which is an infantry fighting vehicle and Main Battle Tank competition. We just wrapped up the tank competition, and every Battle Group from Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia is represented there. So, we work together frequently. We’ve had soldiers from eFP Poland come here to Latvia to train with us. We’ve had soldiers from eFP Estonia come to train with us; and we’ve sent our soldiers to the other eFP nations within Poland and the Baltics to conduct joint training together. So, I’d say that the degree to which we train with our allies and partners is quite high, but I also wouldn’t want to leave out our Latvian partners. We’re here as part of the Latvian Mechanized Infantry Brigade, and we train on a regular basis with the Latvian soldiers that are based here in Adazi and throughout Latvia. It’s very important for us as eFP Battle Group Latvia that we train and work with our Latvian partners so that we can build one cohesive team together under the NATO umbrella.

CDR: In addition to overall command, what does Canada contribute to the eFP Battle Group in Latvia?

LCol Vincent: I mentioned that I’m the commander of the Battle Group, and I’ve got a number of Canadian staff and their headquarters. I’ve got a Canadian Mechanized Infantry Company. I have a Canadian Tank Squadron that has just arrived. I have a Canadian Artillery Battery that has just arrived. The multinational Combat Support Company is led by a Canadian Officer, and it has Canadian reconnaissance, snipers, and signals and communications experts, and I have a Canadian leading the multinational combat Service Support Company to supply the Battle Group, to fix the vehicles, and so on. But beyond just the kit and the equipment and the soldiers in the fighting echelon, I’m sure you’re aware that the Prime Minister was recently here and he announced an investment of $2.6 billion into the mission here which will translate into things like infrastructure projects. When you look around this Camp, it has undergone an incredible transformation. I was first here in 2015, and today the Camp is almost unrecognizable from 2015. There have been a number of infrastructure projects and improvements and buildings and sports facilities, generally increasing not only the quality of life of our soldiers, but enhancing the operational effectiveness and the training facilities that are here on the base that are available not just to Canadian soldiers, but all NATO soldiers that are posted here. And so, I think it’s important that when we think about Canada as a framework nation, it goes beyond just providing tanks and artillery and infantry, it really goes to how are we investing in Latvia and how are we investing in the future of deterrence and defence in this part of the world.

CAMP ADAZI

CDR: Let’s talk about the footprint in Latvia. How is the Battle Group situated and where do you train?

LCol Vincent: We are primarily garrisoned at Camp Adazi. That is the main military base of Latvia, there are other military institutions, but this is where the Mechanized Infantry Brigade is garrisoned as well. It is approximately 35 or 40 kilometers east of the capital of Riga, and we are adjacent to our training area, so it makes it very convenient when we want to go and train.

CDR: So, what happens on a day-to-day basis at the Battle Group?

LCol Vincent: So, the day-to-day activities of our soldiers here in the Battle Group is often very similar to what you’d see in our home countries. We are training every day — our soldiers are on the ranges, they’re doing driver training, gunner training in the vehicles, and there’s constant maintenance activities. We also do courses — we can run machine gun courses and driver courses and other types of training to make sure that our soldiers are proficient on their vehicles and their weapon systems. That would be the day-to-day normal garrison routine, but then there’s also larger scale exercises at the company and Battle Group level, and that would include field deployments where we take a formed body of soldiers to practice our manoeuvres much like we would back home in our own countries. The key difference is that we’re training together and that we are deployed. So the tempo and the amount of time that we’re able to get out into the training area is much more than what we would do when back home. We’ve accomplished four Battle Group level field training exercises that were quite large scale, notwithstanding numerous other smaller exercises. So I would say that the big difference is that what you see on the ground might be very similar to what you see back home, but it’s the size, the scale, the scope, and the time intervals between those training exercises that I think is the big difference.

CDR: Is there a signature exercise that the Battle Group has developed or participates in, and is that seeking to validate anything in particular?

LCol Vincent: The key signature exercise that this rotation participated in was Exercise SILVER ARROW. That is a Latvian national exercise that the Latvian Mechanized Infantry Brigade conducts every fall in September. We as a Battle Group leveraged that as an opportunity for our final validation from NATO, whereby NATO observers from Multinational Division North were able to come and complete the combat readiness evaluation for the Battle Group. And so that’s where we leverage an existing exercise that the Latvian mechanized brigade conducts on an annual basis to achieve our combat readiness evaluation. Each rotation will do that, so the next rotation will do their combat readiness evaluation during Exercise CRYSTAL ARROW.

BATTLE GROUP EVOLUTION

CDR: What is your observation for how the Battle Group has evolved since its inception?

LCol Vincent: Well, the Battle Group has certainly grown much bigger and it’s quite robust, and like I said, Canadian tanks have just arrived. So, when we look at the Battle Group, it is entrenched in the Latvian brigade, and in Camp Adazi as a unit and as a permanent fixture here as part of the Mechanized Brigade. We seek opportunities for soldiers to get out and train with the Latvian brigade and train with other nations. The Battle Group will continue to evolve as NATO looks to expand the eFP’s from the Battle Groups to brigades so I think what we’re really seeing is a continual evolution in the face of the threat that is being faced in this part of the world.

CDR: Please tell me about the tanks that have arrived and what does that mean for the Battle Group as a fighting force?

LCol Vincent: The tanks have just arrived and so everybody’s been very interested. What it means for the Battle Group is the combat capability, the firepower that we bring to the battlespace is that much bigger, and it’s just more capable. That’s really what this brings to the Battle Group, to the mechanized brigade — more firepower, more manoeuvre, more protection, more capability and more flexibility. I think, obviously, tanks also send a very clear message, given their size and the mass and the firepower that they bring, and for me, this brings a great opportunity for Canadian soldiers to do some great training with allies from other countries.

URGENT OPERATIONAL REQUIREMENTS

CDR: Please speak about the UORs that are out there because there are a few, and it perhaps speaks to a capability that is not there and is desired.

LCol Vincent: The Chief of Defence Staff, General Eyre, has spoken a lot about some of these issues in the media. He’s spoken about things like anti-tank capabilities, he’s talked about air-defence capabilities, talked about counter-UAS capabilities. But from a Battle Group perspective, this is where the beauty of NATO comes to play because a lot of those capabilities that the Canadian Army may not presently have in the inventory, although I know that the Chief of Defence Staff and the Minister and the staff in Ottawa are working at procuring and bringing these things online — those capabilities are presently covered by other nations and that’s the beauty of NATO coming together and working together. For example, I have an Italian Air Defence platoon, I have an Italian CBRN decontamination capability, I have Spanish electronic warfare — so we have a number of capabilities that all of the allies are able to come together to provide a combat capable Battle Group. And as we grow to the brigade, this is where it’s critical that we work together within NATO and with all of our allies to bring the right capabilities to the Battle Groups and Brigades that we’re putting in the field, so that we’re equipping our soldiers properly.

CDR: Is there anything that you see as the commander of the Battle Group that you would wish more of, or need more of to help make the Battle Group more effective?

LCol Vincent: Well, it’s hard to tell people I need more when I have over 1,300 soldiers that are ready to fight tonight, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of folks from all the nations to come together and serve together so it’s very hard to say that I need more of something when I feel like I’ve already got the best of everything that we’ve got here.

MULTINATIONAL BRIGADE

CDR: Many people are aware that the Battle Group is going to grow into a brigade. So, what does that mean and when is this expected to happen?

LCol Vincent: It means you’re going to see more Canadians in Latvia, you’re going to see numbers grow up to 2,200 over the next few years, and you’re going to see a Canadian Brigade Commander serving here in Latvia, as a line brigade of NATO’s Multinational Division North. You’re going to see the Canadian capabilities that are here remain, and you’re going to see the Battle Group essentially continue to do the great work that we’re doing, but there will be a Canadian Brigade here, and so what that really means is NATO’s presence in this part of the world is growing. We started off talking about the security threat environment here, and I mentioned that you get a sense that this part of the world is keenly aware that they share a border with Russia, and that Russia is a country that has now twice illegally invaded Ukraine where a war is ongoing, so this is a part of the world where they keenly understand those threats. So, you’re seeing NATO’s presence grow, and you’re seeing Canada and the Canadian Army step up to the plate and demonstrate a leadership role.

CDR: Just for clarification, when you mentioned growing to about 2,200, is that overall Brigade numbers, or is that just Canadians?

LCol Vincent: That will be overall numbers for the Canadian contribution to NATO operations under the Operation REASSURANCE banner.

CDR: Is there an air support element to the Battle Group, and if not, is that a requirement that you need now or will need in the Brigade?

LCol Vincent: So presently, there are other nations within the region that contribute aviation support to land forces here in Latvia and throughout the Baltics and Poland. Presently, there is an American aviation detachment in the region, and there’s also lots of opportunity for us to work with all of our partners and allies within the region.

CDR: Is there anything that you would like to add or elaborate on?

LCol Vincent: I think the only thing I’d like to elaborate on is that Canadians from coast to coast to coast should be very proud of what their soldiers are doing, and how well they’re representing Canada. Our soldiers are out there every day, taking a leadership role within the Battle Group, working with all the nations, sharing ideas and ways of doing business and training together. What we’re accomplishing here in Latvia is nothing short of incredible. I am extremely proud of the work that Canadians are doing, and I’m also proud of all the soldiers that contribute to this Battle Group from all 10 nations. To anybody who is thinking of coming over and being a part of the Battle Group, I would say it’s absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity and the training opportunities are incredible so I would highly recommend it.

CDR: Thank you.

Joetey Attariwala is CDR’s Senior Staff Writer

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