Florida Guardsmen heading to Germany to continue training Ukrainian troops

A Florida National Guard unit that evacuated Ukraine in February has a new mission: continuing to train Ukrainian troops, this time outside of Ukraine.

The 160 members of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team were recently reunited with their Ukrainian partners, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Friday.

The Guard soldiers first arrived in Ukraine late last year, and still have months to go on their original deployment orders.

“So they’ll do the bulk of it,” Kirby said. “But I’m not going to go so far as to say that all of it will be done just by the Florida National Guard.”

Germany will be one of the host countries, Kirby added, declining to name the other. The Guardsmen will train Ukrainian troops on equipment sent in two recent aid packages, including radars and tactical vehicles.

Canada’s Minister of National Defence Anita Anand confirmed Thursday that Canada is leading training on the M777 howitzer systems that both the U.S. and Canada have sent to Eastern Europe.

As of Friday, Kirby said, a second group of 50 Ukrainian troops is receiving week-long howitzer training, after which they’ll return home and train their own troops to operate the artillery systems. The howitzers began arriving in Ukraine over the past week.

Though training now has to take place outside of Ukraine, it’s a continuation of a partnership that began after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since then, multiple units have rotated into Ukraine to train troops not only on equipment, but on doctrine and leadership structures.

“We shouldn’t forget that a big part of Ukraine’s soldiers’ ability to defend their country as well as they have has been the training that they have gotten over the past eight years,” Kirby said.

That training has “helped transform them off of Soviet doctrine and Soviet-era organization,” Kirby added.

That includes a noncommissioned officer corps, Kirby noted, as well as U.S.-style command and control.

National Guard units are also contributing from back home. The Associated Press reported Friday that some of the M113 armored personnel carriers included in recent aid packages are coming from the North Carolina Army National Guard.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT

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