Dutch Defense Minister Visits Fort Hood
Dutch Defense Minister Hans Hillen came to Fort Hood Jan. 10 to meet with his troops training here under the 21st Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat).

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Dutch Defense Minister Hans Hillen came to Fort Hood Jan. 10 to meet with his troops training here under the 21st Cavalry Brigade (Air Combat).

He liked what he saw as he met with III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., as well as soldiers and airmen from the Royal Netherlands Army's 12th Air Assault Infantry Battalion and the Royal Netherlands Air Force's 11th Air Mobility Brigade.

"This is well organized training," Hillen said about the programs at Fort Hood. "It's good for our military to have the opportunity to really train as if this is real."

Dutch troops at Fort Hood said Hillen's visit reflected their country's investment on the training here.

"His visit shows the Netherlands' commitment to invest in quality training," said Lt. Col. Emco Jellema, commander, Joint Task Force -- Netherlands.

Dutch service members have enjoyed a long-standing relationship with the U.S. military. Pilots from the Royal Netherlands Air Force attend their flight training at Fort Rucker, Ala., and receive follow-up training for tactics, techniques and procedures at Fort Hood.

"The Dutch receive the next level of training," explained Maj. Matt Ketchum, executive officer, 21st Cavalry Brigade, about when the troops from the Netherlands come to Fort Hood. "They work on advanced tactics, techniques and procedures, air-ground integration and conducting raids."

About 200 Dutch troops, army and air force, receive training here throughout the year.

Dutch army battalions rotate into the "Great Place" for five-week cycles that include air and urban assault exercises.

Attack pilots from the Royal Netherlands Air Force, or RNLAF, have been receiving training on the AH-64 Apache helicopter at Fort Hood since 1999. Infantry and airborne soldiers from the Royal Netherlands army began training here in 2010. Soon, CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots and air crews will begin training under 21st Cav. as well.

"The training is well organized," Hillen said. "It's good for our military to have the opportunity to train. In Holland, we lack all kinds of room."

A comparatively smaller nation, the Netherlands is also densely populated, which means strict guidelines for when and where pilots can conduct training.

"This is a good signal to the Netherlands that we are able to maintain a high-quality deployment ability," Jellema said. "We need to train. We need to give our soldiers enough tools."

The U.S. has had a long and close partnership with the Dutch, and the nations share many commonalities, especially with the military.

"We have everything the U.S. has, just smaller," Hillen said, mentioning the Netherlands also has a navy, marines and special forces.

Both nations are currently battling tightening budget concerns and mandatory reductions to troop strengths.

Dutch force reductions announced last year mean cutting about 10,000 civilian and military positions, said Sascha Louwhoff, spokesperson for the Minister of Defense.

Calling the Netherlands forces "lean and mean," the defense minister said the Dutch military is similar to America's only on a much smaller scale.

In total, the budget for the Dutch military is roughly the same as Fort Hood's, Hillen said.

The Dutch have seen returns on their investment in the training.

"This is one of the programs that is actually growing," Jellema said.

The training opportunities for Dutch troops here at Fort Hood have been especially important, as the nation's service members have been participating in operations and exercises worldwide.

Dutch troops participated in operations in Libya and in Sudan, as well as assisting with ongoing operations and training in Afghanistan. The nation is also involved in counter piracy operations along its coastline and beyond.

"We've always been very internationally minded," Hillen said.

In his own nation, Hillen said he is seeing a shift in public opinion when it comes to the military, and he said the U.S. partnership has helped ease tensions as training has moved over here.

"Support for the military is growing," he said. "The tide is turning."

The visit was Hillen's first to Fort Hood. While in the U.S., the defense minister also spent time at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas to look at unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, the Dutch are considering, as well as a stop at Lockheed-Martin in Fort Worth to discuss and look at the Dutch helicopters.

"We have to invest in new equipment," Hillens said. "We want UAVs and cyber equipment."

Currently, the Royal Netherlands Air Force only has short-range UAS capabilities, he added.

Hillen capped his visit to the U.S. in Washington, D.C., where he met with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Hillen hoped to discuss ongoing contingency and training missions and budgets with Panetta, Louwhoff said.

The visit marked another chapter in the enduring relationship the U.S. and its allies share.

"Europe and America share the same values," the Dutch defense minister said. "We will not lose ties."

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