Among many other "Augmentees", I am supporting the Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) during the NATO exercise Steadfast Defender 2021. As a reserve officer in the Communications Directorate, my task will be to pass on scenario news developments from the Joint Operations Centre to the Public Affairs Office and prepare information for the media and the public.
I have already spent the last years of my active service here in Ulm, as a youth information officer. But when I entered the Wilhelmsburg Barracks this morning, after two years of absence, it felt a bit different. There are construction sites everywhere, there are new, modern buildings, huge tents, COVID test stations, and people wearing masks wherever I look. The protective measures against corona seem to play a major role in this exercise.
Before I was authorized to proceed in entering the exercise scenario, I had to pass a Corona antigen quick test. Fortunately, my test was negative, so I could start! After the test, a few dozen soldiers from many different nations stood in line with me, at a suitable distance and wearing protective masks, in front of a large building, where the inprocessing for all exercise participants has been set up in a spacious storage hall. Here I got my ID, loads of information about all the safety regulations and, very important: I had to pay for my rations for the next two weeks in advance.
Talking about food, the catering also felt quite different from what I remembered. Here, too, Corona has a significant impact. All participants eat in a large tent during the exercise, twice the size of a basketball court. Before I got access to the food tray, I had to pass a hand washing station, disinfect my hands and show the proof my ration payment. Inside the tent is a lot of space, there are huge tables with only 2 people sitting and eating at a time. Not really sociable, undoubtedly necessary, but somehow sad. At least, the spaghetti Carbonara tasted quite well and were supported by a nice variety of salads and fruit.
In the afternoon, the exercise scenario was explained to me and many other participants during the welcome briefing. The overall aim of the exercise is to make JSEC fully operational and to train in a realistic scenario, to work together with other NATO nations in order to enable rapid troops and material movements throughout the European continent, as well as to recognize threats from all possible sides and to react to them jointly.
Now I feel excited and look very much forward to participating in the exercise as part of the Public Affairs Office.