The tempo of military life is usually summed up as “hurry up and wait.” But for 4000 American soldiers based at Fort Carson, Colorado, the formula was reversed over the past year. What started as un-urgent and generic training for potential exercises in Europe, became a sharply-focused, quickly-executed deployment to Poland. It’s the largest deployment of US troops to Europe since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago, and it is the first ever US military presence in Poland. And it happened so quickly that the brigade didn’t get a chance to repaint its vehicles with Euro-appropriate camouflage.
The camo that will make the American forces not blend in with, but rather, stand starkly out from the dark-green backdrop of the Polish forests was noticed by our guest today, foreign correspondent Christopher Livesay as he covered the deployment for PBS’ NewsHour.
Before we ask Chris to detail for us the nature of this deployment and how it fits into a series of commitments of American boots on the ground in states bordering Russia from Romania to Norway, let’s answer the question – what was it that turned the normal pace of troop training to quick-step?
Would you believe politics? Presidential politics?
The last weeks of the Obama Administration have seen a series of military initiatives taken with the now-accomplished change of Administrations firmly in mind. The targets of 2 recent US Air Force strikes against reported ISIS training camps in Libya and Iraq were not newly discovered. And I’d be surprised if their relative population or importance had suddenly changed. So the timing of the assaults, literally in the last days of the Obama Presidency, suggests one objective of the mission was to reinforce Obama’s claim to have been an implacable foe of Islamic State terrorism.
The attack in Libya involved 2 B-2 bombers which flew a 34 hour round-trip from Missouri, what the late TV impresario Ed Sullivan famously called, “a rilly big shew.”
The rush to Poland, European think tankers have been saying aloud, is to put American military mine-canaries along the Russian border and dare Donald Trump to pull ‘em back.
Again, the timing is suggestive. The ceremonial handshake between American and Polish military commanders welcoming the US soldiers to their new base in the town of Zagan beat the ceremonial handover of Presidential Inauguration Day by just over a week. The Ft Carson Brigade is supposed to stay in Poland till September, until they are relieved by a follow-on force on what is being called a permanent deployment. Will President Trump stick to a plan that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a threat and a provocation?
Now that we’ve hurried up to get there, we’ll have to wait to find out.
Christopher Livesay is a free-lance journalist based in Rome. He is presently a special correspondent for PBS NewsHour, for whom he has reported from Italy and Mosul, Iraq, as well as Poland. He has also reported for PBS’ Frontline and NPR. He spent several years working for the Italian wire service ANSA, based in Rome, and is just finishing up a video documentary on American volunteers at the front lines of the war against the Islamic State.