The first Ukrainian forces learning how to use a new U.S.-based weapons system have returned to their country after being trained in Grafenwoehr, Germany, defense officials said Wednesday.
The soldiers were artillery forces who were already familiar with Howitzer tanks and armored vehicles on their own system but were trained to use a U.S.-based system as well. A second wave is currently being trained, according to Brig. Gen. Joseph Hilbert, commander of the 7th Army Training Command.
“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 in a press briefing. “The soldiers that we are receiving here are absolutely motivated, incredibly professional.”
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Ukrainian troops will return to their bases and teach other soldiers to use the U.S.-based systems being delivered.
The bulk of the training is being conducted through the Florida guardsmen, who have been stationed in Ukraine as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group since 2015. The guardsmen were sent back to Florida after Russia invaded Ukraine in February but have since reunited with the Ukrainian soldiers, though Hilbert spoke about the success the training that had been going on is having on the war itself.
"The worst thing the Russians did was give us eight years to prepare," he said. "And I will tell you, they use that time very wisely."
Since the training began in 2015, the U.S. has trained more than 23,000 members of Ukraine's armed forces from 17 different battalions and 11 different brigades, Hilbert said, noting that the total cost was approximately $126 million.
Lt. Col. Todd Hopkins, who also oversaw the training, said the soldiers are devoted to getting through the training quickly so they can return home and defend their country.
"A couple of days ago, during one of the lunch breaks, one of the Ukrainian soldiers received word that his hometown was being shelled," Hopkins said. "He and his team immediately stopped what they were doing, stopped eating lunch, and went back to training, knowing that was how they were going to get back and support their homelands."
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U.S. troops are not the only ones helping to train Ukrainian forces. Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand said Canada is also helping train troops on Howitzers, which are necessary to counter Russian forces in the Donbas region of Ukraine.