Marines training for harsh winter warfare in Norway also have to deal with ‘different military terms’

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Marine Maj. Alex Puraty greets Maj. Gen. Lars Lervik, chief of the Norwegian Army, during Exercise Reindeer II at Setermoen, Norway, November 25, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Jesse Carter-Powell
  • Marines have become a common presence in Norway in recent years, as they train for combat in harsh Arctic conditions and on rough terrain.
  • During that training, Marines and Norwegian troops often work side by side, and they take special measures to avoid miscommunications that can foul up their operations.
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US Marines have been spending more time in Norway training for winter warfare, and in addition to harsh weather and rough terrain, they also have to navigate a language barrier.

In late November, they headed to the northern village of Setermoen for Exercise Reindeer II to train on extreme terrain and to “synchronise tactics, techniques and procedures” with their Norwegian counterparts

One particular area for alignment became obvious, according to Maj. Gen. Lars Lervik, chief of the Norwegian Army.

“One of the most important lessons we have learned is that we need a mutual understanding of what the different military terms mean, so that when an order is given, we can both act in the same way,” Lervik said.

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US Marines on a hike led by a Norwegian soldier during cold-weather training in preparation for Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. William Chockey

Lervik added that he had “never seen” integration between the two forces “this good before,” but like him, a Marine official acknowledged that extra steps are needed to make sure everybody knows what everybody else is doing.

“While communication among US and Norwegian forces takes place in English without any difficulty, small differences in units’ standard operating procedures, professional experiences, and, in some cases, doctrinal terminology do exist,” Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Europe-Africa, said in an email.

They have several methods to overcome those differences, including “nearly identical planning processes” and liaisons embedded at the brigade, battalion, and company level “to facilitate mutual understanding,” Rankine-Galloway said, adding that such liaisons have been present throughout the Marine rotations in Norway since 2017.

Marines and Norwegian soldiers also made sure that they had a mutual understanding of their tasks and procedures during planning meetings for Exercise Reindeer II.

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US Marines receive cold-weather survival instruction from a Norwegian soldier during preparations for Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 12, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. William Chockey

Rankine-Galloway cited as an example a series of forward passage of lines — “a complex manoeuvre that occurs when a unit passes through another unit’s positions while moving toward the enemy” — that the two forces conducted during the exercise.

The manoeuvre “involves transferring the responsibility for an area of operations between two commanders and requires clear communication between both forces to ensure their safety and ability to carry out their missions,” Rankine-Galloway said.

Understanding and interoperability

Marines and sailors taking part in the current deployment of Marine Rotational Force-Europe arrived in Norway in late October and went through a quarantine before beginning their training.

Theirs is first of what the Corps said in August will be shorter, “episodic” deployments of varying numbers of Marines rather than the months-long rotations of several hundred Marines that the Corps started doing in Norway in 2017.

Those shorter deployments will be aligned with Norwegian exercises, which the Corps says “will allow for increased operational flexibility.”

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US Marines discuss their route plan during Exercise Reindeer II in Setermoen, Norway, November 26, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. William Chockey

Broader changes to the Corps’ force structure mean other adjustments to its presence in Norway, including the removal of tanks it has stored for decades in a secret cave complex.

Other US service branches are also increasing their interactions with NATO’s northernmost member. Russia, with which Norway shares an increasingly tense border, has watched that activity warily.

US Marines train all over the world with troops who speak many different languages. A Navy planner told Insider in 2019 that language barriers typically don’t impede planning for such operations, but communicating about communicating can sometimes lead to hiccups.

In mid-2019, it was reported that Australian troops had been told not to use their country’s many slang terms around visiting Marines in order to avoid confusion.

But an Australian military spokesperson told Stars and Stripes that the officer whose comments prompted those reports was only citing “the potential to misinterpret each nation’s everyday language as an example to highlight how training together improves understanding and interoperability.”