The US military has been training Ukrainian troops at the Grafenwoehr range in southern Germany to handle modern howitzers, drones, and other NATO-supplied equipment, according to the director of the 7th Army Training Command on Wednesday. Brigadier General Joseph Hilbert told reporters that the US military had trained over 20,000 Ukrainian troops in preparation for a battle with Russia during the last seven years.
Grafenwoehr, in eastern Bavaria, was initially built by Imperial Germany in preparation for World War I. The Wehrmacht extended it in 1938 and used it to rehearse Blitzkrieg tactics. It was occupied by the US military in 1945 and has been maintained by them ever since.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Hilbert confirmed earlier reports that Florida National Guard troops were training Ukrainians on the new M777 howitzers sent by the US as military aid to Kiev. The first group, which a Pentagon official on Monday said numbered 170 instructors, has already returned to Ukraine, while another 50-60 are currently completing their training, Hilbert said.
“They understand how to operate it and employ it as effectively as they can on their own and in accordance with their own tactics and their own doctrine,” Hilbert said, referring to the new hardware. He called the Ukrainians who came to Germany for training “absolutely motivated, incredibly professional,” according to comments reported by Bloomberg News.
Hilbert revealed that the US has spent an estimated $126 million over the past seven years to train Ukrainian troops, including building an entire base in western Ukraine for the purpose. Some 23,000 soldiers had been trained inside Ukraine by January 2022, he said. Kiev’s forces also took part in “over a dozen” large-scale exercises with US troops in Germany since 2015.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia began after the February 2014 US-backed coup in Kiev overthrew the democratically elected government, triggering a referendum to rejoin Russia in Crimea and declarations of independence in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
“The worst thing the Russians did was give us eight years to prepare,” Hilbert told reporters, adding that the Ukrainian troops took US training “to heart” and built an effective corps of non-commissioned officers.
Lieutenant Colonel Todd Hopkins of the Florida National Guard said that his unit was planning a division-level exercise in Ukraine when orders came to pull out. Some 160 members of the FNG left Ukraine prior to the escalation of hostilities with Russia on February 24.
Hopkins said the FNG had focused on building up the base in Yavorov to handle brigade-level training. Russia targeted the base with cruise missiles on March 13, destroying much of it. Moscow said up to 180 foreign mercenaries were killed in the strike; Ukrainian officials spoke of 40 Ukrainian troops killed and 130 injured.
Hilbert and Hopkins said there hadn’t been any problems getting small groups of Ukrainian soldiers into Germany and back, but acknowledged that the training itself posed some challenges, such as having to use translators.