Commenting on the snap reservist training exercise Okas 21, which ended a few weeks ago, commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) Lt. Gen. Martin Herem told Postimees that while the exercise was a success overall, the share of reservists who turned up for the exercise left much to be desired.
Herem said that the proportion of reservists who arrived to take part in Okas 21 compared with the number of orders sent out was 55 percent. The EDF has been holding similar snap exercises since 2016 and the only time the corresponding figure has been as poor as this year was in 2018.
Reservist turnout may be the most important figure measured by the defense forces. Estonia's defensive capability is based on the prerequisite that if the country needs to be defended, orders are sent out and trained reservists turn up rapidly.
The Okas reservist training exercises simulate a real situation of war most accurately as events are not announced several months in advance and are instead held unexpectedly, just like this year. The government made its decision on a Wednesday, the orders were sent out on the same day and on Thursday, the units were being formed near the border in Võru County.
Commanders of the EDF combat engineer battalions, Lt. Col. Ainar Afanasjev and Maj. Marten Suur – the commanding officers conducting the exercise – said that while they had received hints of something being afoot a few days earlier, they, too, essentially only had 24 hours for making preparations.
Several tens of kilometers of barrier wire was installed on the border between Estonia and Russia in the course of the exercise. The work of the troops was examined and lauded by the president and prime minister. Afanasjev and Suur said that the reservists did a good job despite many of them having completed their conscript service years ago.
Even though the barrier appears to be on the low side based on visual examination, it is not easily crossed without special equipment according to the commanding officers. Suur noted that while in a situation of war, his unit would simply destroy the barrier with explosives, the obstacle is sufficient for peacetime as it slows down people attempting to cross the border unlawfully and redirects them to areas where border officials are expecting them.
The most important thing is that the units were combat-ready and that the exercise was carried out, Herem said.
Units are always built up to excess with the assumption that not everyone who is summoned to attend the exercise will turn up. Herem said that if the size of the unit is planned to be 500 troops, the order is sent to 700 people with the presumption that some of the reservists are ill, dead, residing abroad, absent due to a relative's funeral or some other reason. The defense forces have been relatively forthcoming in this respect.
Daily Postimees did not receive a clear answer to why such a small share of reservists made it to the exercise this year. The low turnout may be attributable to the coronavirus, diseases, concerns, stress, fear of losing one's job. Some people are also angry with the state. The defense forces have also made some controversial decisions, such as doing away with its orchestra, which may have sparked disapproval among some people, according to the daily.
Editor: Marcus Turovski