Reaching the Finnish line together – US Marines train with Finland’s Nyland Brigade
In chilly and challenging southern Finland, US Marines and the Finnish Navy’s Nyland Brigade recently trained together in the lead-up to the Finnish-led exercise Freezing Winds 22. Over three rigorous months, the newest member of NATO showed their US friends how to navigate Finland’s icy waters during the longest deployment of US Marines to the country.
The US Marines stand in the cold, their heads tilted, listening.
“I hear him,” one of them eventually says.
After a few seconds, the rest do, too: a low droning in the distance beyond the clouds, growing steadily louder. After a minute, a cargo plane shreds through the low clouds, and a grey-hulled Finnish Air Force CASA C-295 emerges. As it soars overhead, a black bundle ejects from the back of the plane and sprouts a parachute. It sways slowly down in the frigid air until it hits the snowy field with a soft thud.
The US Marines, agile despite their heavy winter gear, amble into the fresh snow and strip the parachute rigging from the cargo, revealing a stack of truck tires. The Marines load them onto a cargo truck, which heads to a resupply point. It may not be the most glamorous work or the simplest delivery method, but the logistical support is vital for the recipients – the Finnish Navy’s Nyland Brigade, a unit that focuses on amphibious operations. As part of the Marines’ ongoing cooperation and joint training, several such crates have found their way from the skies to supply depots and to the field.
Since Finland’s application for NATO membership in May 2022, which culminated with the country’s full accession to NATO on 4 April 2023, US Marines have stepped up their presence in the country. While Freezing Winds 22 took place a few months before Finland became a full NATO member, such exercises have been essential to consolidate an already solid foundation for Allied cooperation between Finnish and NATO allied forces in the field. In addition to US troops, ships from NATO’s standing naval forces from the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany also participated, as well as ships from NATO Invitee Sweden. Together, Freezing Winds 22 simultaneously strengthened the bonds between NATO and Finland as well as deepened the cooperation between the Alliance and Sweden.
US Marines move through the Finnish wilderness.
“We get to know each other – each other’s habits, the way we operate,”
– Finnish Navy Captain Juha Kilpi, commander of the Nyland Brigade.
Of particular significance to the Marines, Captain Juha Kilpi noted that they were embedded within the brigade for the entire deployment, living and working out of their base on the edge of the Finnish archipelago.
The US Marines belong to Combat Logistics Battalion 6 based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. This three-month-long deployment to southern Finland was their longest mission in the country to date, and is a significant milestone in the evolution of the transatlantic relationship between Finland and its NATO Ally, the United States.
“For us, the US Marine Corps is a big entity,” he said. “It’s a whole different culture, and their capabilities, their way of thinking, is the biggest lesson for us to learn, and I’ve been very, very satisfied with the cooperation that we’ve had.”
Finnish Navy Jehu and Jurmo-class landing craft land Finnish troops and US Marines during exercise Freezing Winds 22.
While the Marines’ time on the archipelago started in the waning days of summer, they quickly had to adapt to the frigid onset of Finnish winter. In winter, the piercing winds off the Baltic Sea are unrelenting, and the ever-present cold affects everything, draining radio batteries and stalling truck engines.
These logistical headaches are intensified by the already challenging terrain of southern Finland. The vast, cold, watery maze of islands are a unique obstacle, even for the US military’s small but fierce amphibious branch. For these Marines, it was a distinct and icy learning curve.
Thankfully, the Marines had well-seasoned hosts. The Nyland Brigade specialises in amphibious operations, and for them, the archipelago is a second home. Working side by side, the Marines learned how to use small boats and landing craft to get around the islands, and Finnish helicopter pilots learned how to hoist cargo bundles prepared by their US counterparts.
US Marines watch as a Finnish Navy NH90 helicopter prepares to lift a bulk container in southern Finland.
During the final training drill of their deployment – the aptly-named exercise Freezing Winds 22, one of the Finnish Defence Forces’ largest naval exercises – the Marines set up a logistics hub and became the logistical backbone of the Nyland Brigade. Finnish helicopters hauled Marine-prepared supplies out to troops stationed on far-flung islands, while Marine trucks carried platoons of Nyland soldiers towards the simulated front lines.
During the culminating battle portion of the exercise, Marines joined their Finnish counterparts on an amphibious raid. As the Finnish troops moved off the beachhead and into the woods, Marines fell in with their formation, moving seamlessly and wordlessly through the pines.
“On an individual level, and on a professional level, it’s been great working with the Finns,” said Marine Captain Michael Roeske. “We understand the Finnish military culture better, and they understand our culture better, and from that, we’ve developed working relationships that have led to the successes that we’ve seen during this exercise.”
As Finland has now joined the Alliance, many NATO Allies will benefit from the unique skills and abilities Finland, its Nyland Brigade, and the whole of its armed forces has to offer. In turn, NATO Allies are ready not only to continue training and learning alongside their Ally Finland, but if needed, to defend Finland as well.
US Marines and Finnish Navy troops prepare to practise a sling-load helicopter resupply operation.