Day three: More than 2,500 soldiers from five nations came together on Latvian soil for one of the largest ever peacetime exercises.
I travelled to Latvia with the Duke of Lancaster’s second regiment as part of Exercise Silver Arrow.
Another 6am start and breakfast in the canteen is sausages, bacon patties, beans and the welcome sugary brew.
Today marks the culmination of Exercise Silver Arrow and we have been promised action.
This is a crucial day not just for the NATO troops but for Latvia itself. With results of Saturday’s election due this is a country living on nerves.
We return to the field of battle, where in a remarkable feat of timing we witness the British troops overcoming the ‘Bothnians’ in a huge burst of fire and an amazing display of tactics.
As the soldiers burst through the frontline we can see dozens of ‘dead’ enemy – standing around and watching the culmination of this forward offensive. As a battalion leader runs forward I hear an Estonian soldier congratulate him on his efforts – not usual in war I suspect.
Next we move forward on the plain itself where troops are moving forward toward the enemy tree line in a decisive manner. They can smell victory.
For an hour and in directed stages they trudge across the plain as we follow with baited breath.
Their objective is to take this area, to reach the tree line, then victory would be theirs. In the distance we hear short, sharp, bursts of gunfire then the sounds of heavy artillery being deployed.
Then overheard two Chinooks appear, hovering just above the treeline, ready to dive in and supply/extract troops.
Then two further helicopters dive toward the action, as an air strike begins. Over our side of the field, away from the action, we trudge toward the tree line through the long grass, where the shout of victory goes up.
For these troops, the battle is over.
The exercise has been declared a success.
As soldiers gather for the closing ceremony, spirits are high and exhaustion palpable.
For the first time soldiers and assorted armed military vehicles and weaponry from five countries gather together to hear speeches and declare Exercise Silver Arrow complete. It’s a remarkable sight, a show of strength and a declaration of unity.
Meanwhile, native Latvians are breathing a sigh of relief at the election results.
The Russian-sympathising party gathered around 30 per cent of the votes, but the three-party coalition retains the majority. For now.
It is more of the same and as a Latvian soldier haltingly explained: “The same is better for us.” Right now.
For us, a night in relative civilisation of an army accommodation block – with showers.
As we leave the next day the concierge, a woman, calls me back as we wave goodbye.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, pointing at the soldiers. “We appreciate you helping our country.”
This may have been an exercise but for Latvia the ramifications are so much more.
See article at Lancaster Guardian. Click HERE