Frequent and realistic exercises that test war-fighters on symmetric and asymmetric war scenarios are the best way to prepare a force for a possible conflict. Force preparedness is crucial with the near-peer threats of China and Russia becoming ever more pronounced as the American military and its NATO allies shift their gaze from counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.

In that spirit, an American Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force from the Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR) alongside SOF units for nine allies from nine different countries participated in the two-week Exercise Trojan Footprint during June. The allies include: Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, North Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom, with close to 1,400 commandos.

Maj. Gen. Kirk Smith (USAF), the commander of SOCEUR, delineated that the scope of the exercise was more geared toward the operational level rather than the tactical. “Our allies and partners in Europe are extremely capable at the individual tactical level, that training is a component but not the overall focus of Trojan Footprint,” General Smith said in a statement to DVIDS. “This exercise is about taking those individual capabilities respective countries possess, and merging them in a combined, joint mission command structure to demonstrate and exercise capacity at the operational level of war.”

On behalf of the European allies, Brig. Gen. Tomas Sandor, the commander of the Hungarian Special Operations Forces, said in a statement: “Although most of us know each other from multiple deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq, the size and difficulty of the exercise really challenged the multinational team on all levels and provided a superb training opportunity for us.”

It is worth highlighting that this was the first time that the combined European Special Operations units that participated conducted a full-spectrum exercise in more than two different countries at the same time (Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary).

Trojan Footprint also enabled NATO commanders to assess and evaluate the progress and future of the Regional-Special Operations Combatant Command (R-SOCC) concept, which is comprised of Hungary (leader), Austria, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia. With the creation of the R-SOCC last February, NATO intends to create a small joint operations SOF headquarters that will be able to deploy quickly in case of a crisis with Russia. NATO, moreover, plans for the R-SOCC to become its SOF quick reaction force by 2025.

Exercise Trojan Footprint is an annual exercise that focuses on fostering cooperation, interoperability, and readiness among the NATO allies. The focus and scope of the exercise shifts every year. The Baltic states and Eastern European nations have been the mainstay destination during the last few years, given the increased truculence of Russia.

Army Col. George Thiebes, deputy commander of SOCEUR, added that “mission command at the operational level is a difficult task, and creating a venue for this every year allows us to increase the complexity, bring in more allies and partners, and link our exercises with other components of U.S. European Command.”