Minnesota Red Bulls participate in European exercise Immediate Response 23

UDBINDA, Croatia – May 26, 2023, approximately 750 Minnesota Red Bulls participated in the multinational exercise Immediate Response 23, which ran from May 22 – June 02. Soldiers with the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division were station through Croatia and North Macedonia and worked alongside several European partner nations.

Croatian Col. Boris Panić, the training and exercise department head for the Croatian general staff, shared outlined the primary focus of the exercise.

“The U.S. led exercise Immediate Response is primarily focused on Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (known as RSOI) with the Minnesota National Guard 34th Red Bull Infantry Division headquarters here in Udbina,” he said. “Under the division command, there are three brigade level task forces; Task Force South in Albania, Task Force Black Sea in Bulgaria, and the Croatian Army lead Task Force North, located in Croatia at Slunj Range.”

“As part of the exercise, the division headquarters is commanding and controlling over 8,000 personnel from 10 countries comprising three multinational task forces,” said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Steven Schemenauer, the deputy commanding general for maneuver of the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division.

The main theme of the exercise is increasing interoperability and partnership between partner nations, and the division staff has worked to incorporate these themes into their daily operations, Schemenauer said.

“As examples of our interoperability and integration, we have incorporated some of our partners directly into key positions of the division staff,” he said. “We are also working to incorporate the NATO logistics system into our division logistics common operating picture.”

Gary Smith, U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s training and exercises Defender lead planner, said that Immediate Response 23  has a primary training audience of the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Red Bull Infantry Division headquarters, as well as the 2nd Battalion of the 135th Infantry Regiment. With a base of these two elements, a combat credible division, or a division that has demonstrated its ability to conduct offensive and defensive operations against an adversary, will be formed. That division will include three brigades, 10 battalions, and 11 nations throughout the Southeastern European region that supports a NATO mission.

“Immediate Response 23 [shows] the ability of the United States Forces of Europe and Africa to deploy a combat credible force to the Balkan region to establish a divisional multi-national division in support of a NATO mission to deter adversarial aggression,” he said. “It really is twofold: the first piece is deploying by air, sea, and by ground that force. It includes a big component of the 34th Infantry Division from Minnesota and the 2nd Battalion of the 135th Infantry Regiment from Minnesota as well.”

The second component is that after completing RSOI, the force becomes a ‘training audience,’ that will conduct military exercises where live ammunition and ordinance is used, and other operations, field training exercises, maneuver events and combined arms training at various training locations and more, Smith said.

According to the U.S. Army Europe & Africa Command, countries participating in the exercise include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia, and the United States. Around 2,800 U.S. and 7,000 multi-national participants are currently training primarily in the countries of, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Slovenia.

Integral to the success of IR23 is relationship building, like the official state partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and Croatia that began in 1996. These partnerships are ‘critically’ important in the Balkan region, Smith said.

“Relationship building, particularly Immediate Response and particularly in the Balkan region is critically important and partnerships have existed for 30 years or more with this military-to-military relationship,”  he said. “And those partnerships in this region help us build capability specifically for NATO, so it helps us with NATO interoperability. And now with 31 nations in NATO, these state partnership programs that the National Guard has is critically important.”

Immediate Response 23 is one of three major exercises that fall under the umbrella of a larger exercise known as Defender 23, which focuses on the ‘strategic deployment of continental United States based forces, the employment of Army prepositioned stocks and the interoperability with Allies and partners.’ The overall intent of the exercise is to demonstrate the ability of USAEUR-AF to aggregate U.S. based combat power quickly in Eastern Europe, increase the lethality of the NATO Alliance environment, and leverage host nation capabilities to increase operational reach.

By Staff Sgt. Sirrina Martinez
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs