Heroes of Telemark
Camp Rena, Norway: Telemark Battalion is Norway‘s biggest professional Army unit. Having seen action in most of the world‘s hot spots since its formation in 1994, the mechanised battle group forms the core of Norway‘s reaction forces abroad.
It is late in December. In Camp Rena, beautifully situated within the forests of Eastern Norway, activity is high before Christmas. Winter-clad soldiers march hastily towards the wooden barracks, their thick uniforms offering a certain protection against the biting cold. Along the road a couple of foreign vehicles are approaching. Some officers from the Netherlands, who are on an exchange programme with the Norwegian Army, are still working hard to conclude their manoeuvres before they will head for home before Christmas.
In a vast garage hall, soldiers of Telemark Battalion (TMBN) give their vehicles and equipment a last shine before the Christmas inspection. Most of them will spend the holidays at home this year. Around a hundred of the battalion’s members, however, will celebrate modestly, because they are currently deployed - as a part of the Kabul Multinational Brigade in Afghanistan.
"This use of smaller units from among the battalion is typical of TMBN,” says informations officer Geir Løvhaug. "It is also a proof of our ability to be flexible and to tailor every task force for certain missions. The whole battalion can be given the same mission, but it is much more common that a company is tasked together with single platoons or squads from other companies. Unlike most battalions, we possess brigade resources such as engineers and Forward Air Control (FAC).”
Professional and Earmarked
Løvhaug, a First Lieutenant and a member of TMBN since its 2002 reform, has surely made this flexibility his own experience. Having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has seen the unit being tasked for a varied spectrum of missions. Telemark Battalion is the biggest unit built entirely on a professional force, and is earmarked for intervention missions at home and abroad.
The Norwegian Army, considerably reduced in size since the days of the Cold War, is still based on conscription. After one year of compulsory national service, distinguished soldiers are encouraged to apply for NCO training, service abroad or a job within Telemark Battalion. After the soldiers have learned the basics of soldiering, been hand-picked from the conscription units in Northern Norway, and been approved of as grenadiers of TMBN, they can start their training at a high level.
"Each platoon is a mix of fresh and experienced soldiers,” says Løvhaug. "This allows us to train not from scratch level, just as in a recruit platoon, but from a level that allows us to maintain our rapid reaction ability.”
Reputation and Tradition
"Telemark Battalion was originally formed in the county of Telemark in Southern Norway. Playing an important role in controlling the Norwegian-Swedish border in the tense days of the escalating border conflict of 1905, the unit earned a good reputation. Still, it was not until 1994 that the modern unit was formed, when it was established as a motorised infantry battalion and played a leading role for Norway’s motorised infantry concept. At that time most of the soldiers were conscripts with special contracts enabling them to join missions abroad, if necessary.
During the nineties, TMBN saw action in the Balkans as a part of NATO’s operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, and as a Norwegian contribution to Ace Mobile Force (Land). Then, in 2001, the Norwegian Parliament became aware of the changes of global security needs and, consequently, perceived the need of reforming the army. Telemark Battalion underwent radical changes.
The whole unit was mechanised and made heavier, and is now the most powerful unit in the Norwegian Army. A major change was also the professionalisation of the entire battalion, enabling it to react even faster than before. The reform was completed on 1 July 2003. Merely ten days after that, we sent our first units to Iraq. From then on, we could take part as the main component of the Norwegian Army High Readiness Force,” explains LtCol Odin Johannessen, the unit’s commanding officer.
A Vast Responsibility
Taking command in 2004, Johannessen took over TMBN when it was conducting two of its most recent missions, i.e. providing an engineering company to Basra, Iraq, and the current ISAF operation in Kabul, Afghanistan. The LtCol addresses the tremendous responsibility felt by a unit which is tasked for a variety of missions in different parts of the world: "The soldiers should be prepared for the entire spectrum of missions, from local crises through more complex conflict situations, to action in war. In order to create a versatile, flexible and thoroughly prepared unit, we have to train for every event. Therefore, it is logical that our main training effort is on high-intensity situations, which are the most difficult ones,” he says.
"Luckily, the battalion has not yet been involved in direct warfare operations. Still, the difference between peacekeeping and peace enforcement is often difficult to see in modern-day scenarios like Afghanistan and Iraq. The battalion already has experienced what it means to suffer losses: in May 2004, a grenadier was killed in a rocket attack just outside the Norwegian camp in Kabul.
We have to be prepared for tragedies like this one. It is important that soldiers and officers reflect on this and that people within the unit take care of each other,” Johannessen says.
"In order to master high intensity warfare training, Camp Rena has been provided with one of the most advanced simulation centres in Europe. At the Army’s Tactical Training Centre, soldiers can train for small-scale or large-scale war operations, and get immediate feedback through a communications system enabling judges to see practically every detail of an operation on screen.
These facilities can be used for individual soldiers or for training squads, platoons and even companies, including tanks and vehicles. In addition, our newly built firing range allows us to practice short- to long-range firing with all types of weapons close to the camp. The only thing we won’t be able to do is aircraft training. There are also plans to extend our urban warfare range,” says Lieutenant Løvhaug.
Friends from the Netherlands
Drawing upon the experience of other countries is an important part of forming an experienced unit. This explains the presence of Dutch vehicles in the streets of Camp Rena - TMBN has signed a contract of friendship with the 44 (NL) Mechanised Battalion, with the double objective of teaching and learning at the same time.
"Our friends from the Netherlands are particularly interested in the aspects of arctic training, in which Norway can offer a variety of possibilities in the winter months. They have also used our simulation systems. In return, we have had exercises in their home area and got access to their urban warfare village, which at the moment is more complex than our own.” The two battalions are seeking to get on a par with each other by means of tactical drills, training and equipment, and thereby increase their capability level. Being able to operate in all sorts of climate is crucial for a modern army unit.
Together, the two battalions have formed a part of the NRF 4 (NATO Response Force) from January to June 2005. For the newly reformed Telemark Battalion, getting ready for NRF status was a challenge.
"The demands for NRF status are quite high. NRF demands a response time of 15 days; for normal NATO operations we have to be ready within 30 days and for a duration of six months, once we have deployed into the theatre. Telemark Battalion is also expected to become active and react within five days if a crisis situation should arise in Norway,” explains CO Johannessen.
The grenadiers of Telemark Battalion are among the best-trained soldiers of the Norwegian Army. But what does that really mean? In the maintenance halls, twenty-three-year-old grenadier Øyvind is likely to answer that question.
"Most of us have experience from international operations, and those who don’t are well supervised by fellow soldiers. I think the typical grenadier is in his mid-twenties, has been abroad once or twice, and has a contract with TMBN for three to five years,” he says.
Being himself a veteran of ISAF 7 in Kabul, Øyvind signed up for service in TMBN because of acceptable wages, good training - and, as is often the case - the need for adventure.
"After my conscription, I applied for service in Afghanistan and served as a multi-vehicle and CV90 driver. At the end of my tour I applied for TMBN simply because I enjoyed being a soldier. Moreover, the pay is good, I have a flat of my own, and the job is eventful. I couldn’t enjoy it more,” says Øyvind from the tower of a neatly cleaned CV90.
Except for his age, Øyvind is close to being the typical TMBN grenadier. The average age is 25, and the figures show that 75 per cent of the grenadiers currently working in the battalion have been involved in an international operation before signing up. Once enlisted, they are offered contracts spanning for one to six years, depending on the assignment. Wages are known to be good, and the most ambitious ones will have a chance for advancement as the contract for some may include a civilian training programme or officer training courses.
In February, the soldiers who spent Christmas in Kabul are going to deploy back home. Another company will replace them and establish a new mission in the Northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif - one more opportunity for the men and women of Telemark Battalion to make history.
The Battalion Battle Group - Facts:
Telemark Battalion is a mechanised battalion battle group. The unit is a modern, flexible fighting force consisting of elements from all army branches.
Telemark Battalion consists of two companies and two squadrons.
The tank squadron consists of three tank platoons, each one with four main battle tanks, and one squadron staff. The squadron staff includes the squadron commander’s tank, the armoured command vehicles for the second-in-command and the administration officer, as well as the all-terrain vehicles and trucks for the transport of personnel and equipment.
Mechanised Infantry Company
The mechanised infantry company is structured in the same way as the tank squadron, but is equipped with armoured infantry fighting vehicles rather than tanks. The infantry fighting vehicles are a variant of the CV9030, armed with a 30-mm-cannon. These vehicles have space for a section of eight infantrymen in addition to a vehicle crew of three.
Armoured Engineer Company
The armoured engineer company consists of three different platoons. The assault engineers are equipped with engineer assault vehicles. The special armoured vehicle platoon is equipped with armoured bridgelayers, "Hydrema” mine clearance vehicles (910-MCV2) and engineer combat vehicles. The staff and support platoon consists of one company staff, one reconnaissance team with a diving capability, one Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team, and one Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) detection and decontamination team.
Combat Support Squadron
The headquarters and field support squadron is the battalion’s most complex unit, consisting of one squadron staff and six platoons. The platoon is administered by the squadron commander but, during operations, is commanded by the battalion commander in the same way as the companies and the tank squadron.
The squadron staff runs the day-to-day activities of the squadron when they are in the barracks. During operations the squadron staff forms part of the battalion command team. In that role the squadron staff has to be able to conduct limited operations independently using elements of the battalion.
Command Post Platoon
The command post platoon carries out the servicing of all the battalion command team vehicles. The platoon is also responsible for setting up and operating the battalion’s communications systems. This includes internal communications within the battalion as well as that with parent units and with Norway.
Armoured Reconnaissance Platoon
The armoured reconnaissance platoon is the battalion’s ranger unit - the battalion commander’s eyes and ears. The task of this platoon is to gather intelligence and in this way provide the battalion commander with the best possible basis on which to conduct operations. The platoon has a very demanding portfolio of missions, frequently involving intense activity that may require anything from lightweight mobility to the use of heavy equipment. In addition to their normal equipment, the platoon has four CV9030 infantry fighting vehicles at its disposal.
Armoured Mortar Platoon
The armoured mortar platoon provides the battalion with its own ability to deliver a barrage of mortar fire in support of its operations. The platoon is equipped with tracked armoured mortar carriers. This supporting fire capability is highly mobile and able to deliver a high volume of mortar rounds of different types, including illumination and smoke as well as high explosive. All in all, this capability gives the battalion even greater flexibility.
Forward Air Control (FAC) Platoon
This platoon must be able to direct and control all types of heavy fire in support of battalion operations. This includes the fire of the battalion’s mortars, artillery, ground attack aircraft and helicopter gunships. The platoon operates either in conjunction with the infantry units, thereby using M-113 armoured personnel carriers or, as a forward patrol, light tactical vehicles or moving on foot.
Armoured Medical Platoon
The armoured medical platoon is able to provide immediate medical assistance for casualties of all kinds and, when necessary, evacuate the wounded with the help of armoured or unarmoured field ambulance vehicles.
Field Support Platoon
The task of the field support platoon is to provide immediate logistic support for the other battalion units. The platoon includes a recovery and repair group, a fuel group and an ammunitions group as well as teams for transport and food supplies.
___________________________________ __________________________________ Author: Kristian Krohg-Sørensen