Allied Strength Across Waters: NATO Forces Conduct Wet Gap Crossing in Poland
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Photo By Capt. Michael Mastrangelo | The Warrior, a British armored vehicle, crosses the Drawa River on an Improved Ribbon Bridge during DEFENDER 24 at Drawsko Combat Training Center, Poland, May 16, 2024. The high concentration of waterways and water obstacles in the European region have led to the demand for wet gap crossings to be implemented into various NATO exercises. (U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Mastrangelo)


Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland — In a powerful display of military coordination and capability, the 43rd Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC) of the 20th Engineer Battalion, alongside the U.K.’s 12th Armoured Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 3rd Division, began training for a wet gap crossing on the Drawa River as part of DEFENDER 24 on May 16, 2024. This joint operation underscores the proficiency and seamless cooperation of NATO forces in executing complex maneuvers.

A wet gap crossing involves overcoming natural obstacles like rivers to advance troops and equipment efficiently across large water bodies that hinder normal ground movement. The U.S. Army utilizes bridge erection boats (BEBs) and improved ribbon bridges (IRBs) to create flexible crossing options. IRBs can form a bridge across the water, while BEBs can be hooked to standalone IRB bays to function as rafts or ferries, moving equipment and vehicles across.

“Utilizing the improved ribbon bridge as a bridge and raft to move equipment provides a strategic advantage to cross water obstacles,” said Capt. Joel Self, commander of the 43rd MRBC. “It gives us the flexibility to move combat power across any terrain.”

The European region’s high concentration of waterways necessitates wet gap crossings, making them a focal point for joint NATO operations. These crossings enable NATO to project combat power and maintain operational speed and tempo despite physical obstacles.

“The challenges we face in Europe, particularly in the Suwalki Gap, are significant,” said Lt. Col. Karl Davis, commander of the 20th Engineer Battalion. “The strategic area represents a potential choke point that must be secured to ensure the freedom of movement for our NATO forces. Our mission was not just about overcoming physical obstacles but building partnerships and cohesion among our NATO allies.”

The 43rd MRBC and the 12th ABCT engaged in meticulous planning and rehearsals to ensure precision during the operation. The successful crossing demonstrated the synchronization and interoperability essential among NATO allies for collective security on NATO’s Eastern Flank.

The 43rd MRBC employed 28 bays of IRBs to span the water obstacle, using BEBs to ferry armor from the 12th ABCT across the river. This enabled the 12th ABCT to maneuver armored vehicles to the far side, showcasing the allies’ ability to conduct complex operations in unfamiliar territory.

Soldiers from both units exchanged knowledge, tactics, and best practices, enhancing their skills and fostering camaraderie and mutual respect. These partnerships are crucial for strengthening international alliances and promoting stability in a dynamic global landscape.

DEFENDER 24 exemplifies force projection capabilities, with wet gap crossings reinforcing NATO’s commitment to overcoming obstacles. This exercise highlights the importance of maintaining a robust, agile military force capable of rapid response to emerging threats.

“Working alongside a U.S. battle group has proven the long-established bonds of human and procedural interoperability are alive and well,” said Lt. Col. Edward Willcox, commander of the Royal Welsh Battle Group, 12th ABCT. “The soldiers you will meet will reflect the scale of this exercise created for them and a new level of ambition.”

As DEFENDER 24 continues, the collaborative efforts of NATO forces will remain crucial in ensuring transatlantic security and stability, demonstrating their readiness to face any challenges together.

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