March 9, 2015

“Hedgehog,” Estonia’s biggest military exercise of all time – does every quill really count?

Estonian Defence Forces

The Siil (Hedgehog) exercise will take place from 4 to 15 May in different parts of the country. The objective: the staging of the 1st Infantry Brigade for the first time in full (personnel, equipment, supplies), this being the main manoeuver unit and strike force of the Estonian Defence Forces. A total of 13,000 are expected to participate, including reservists, conscripts, active-duty personnel, officials, Defence League members and allied troops. The success of this exercise will require contribution from and recognition of not only the participants themselves but their families, employers and other stakeholders in Estonian society.

There are close to 7,000 reservists – citizens who will temporarily leave their daily work and families. That’s over half of the participants in the exercise. The scale is extraordinary for one exercise, as in the past the Defence Forces have called up a maximum of about 6,500 reservists to exercises in a given year (and that number is divided between many exercises held in a calendar year).
In Estonia, each year about 3,500 citizens undergo conscript training and are assigned to a specialization. To maintain and develop skills, Estonia has a system for calling up those who have been through basic training (conscription) to participate in reservist training, which can last from a few days to several weeks.
Compared to reservist trainings in the past, much more attention is being paid this time to staging – assembly of reservists into units (the equivalent to mobilization in a wartime situation) and running through the full-scale command and operation of the brigade. In addition, many conventional procedures and trainings will be held– live fire training, field manoeuvres, interoperating with allies etc. The exercise is taking place both at Defence Forces training grounds and in the midst of everyday life in public areas (conditions in which the battlefield would be located in a real war).
In addition to the increased possibilities for military training, Siil 2015 will generate value added on several other fronts. For example, the Defence Forces are involving civilian society as a whole in the context of the reserve forces. Ads for Siil have been posted at border checkpoints (airport, port) and cinemas and magazines, information is available to the target group as well as for other people in Estonia, including people visiting the country. Such public outreach fosters broad support for the national defence, sending the message that Siil is something in which everyone has a stake. In the past, spreading the word about reservist trainings rested largely on the shoulders of the individuals called up – they had to tell their employers and families where they were going for two weeks and why. The new approach gives reason to believe that more of those called up will show up at the trainings. Ultimately, the military objectives will be fulfilled and Estonia will be better defended.
Yet there is also room for development, because not enough information aimed at employers has been sent out to the public. And employers’ attitudes will determine whether some people invited to participate decide to take part or not. Almost all of the positions in which the reservists will be serving will test and hone teamwork, communication and leadership skills, being able to take orders and following directions, planning and decision-making, learning technical skills, developing physical condition and many others. In other words, at the level of the individual participant, it is really a unique form of in-service training. Such training programs are hard to find elsewhere, because academic institutions or other trainers don’t offer these experiences in a complete package. And yet most ads for job vacancies stress that precisely the same skills are expected from candidates. At reservist trainings, participants get free-of-charge development, and the employer only has to give the person time off work for the necessary period.
A number of companies shave already realized the multilateral benefits of this opportunity and made decisions that amplify the positive effect of the reservist trainings further. Last October, the management of Tallinn Airport took a decision to compensate staff for the salary forgone during the time they are at the exercises. In the run-up to this year’s 97th anniversary of Estonian independence, the security service provider G4S, which has close to 2,600 employees, decided to pay the average wage to employees while they were at the training. It’s also encouraging its employees to join the home guard. There are still other positive examples.
In preparing and organizing Siil, the Defence Forces have moved significantly closer to Estonian civilian society than in the case of past exercises. It’s only to be hoped that other stakeholders act in the same spirit and that the exercise will become a blueprint for future cooperation and sense of assurance. Siil 2015 will culminate in a massive final roll-call on 13 May in Tapa, and the public is welcome at the event to salute their compatriots, fellow service persons, co-workers, family members and friends. Yes, every quill does count!

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