I stayed for a day and a half of presentations and ended up missing a fabulous talk by a retired British.... Colonel, I think.
He talked about the French army and confirmed everything Ed had said previously on the subject of France being a warring nation, which I hadn't known. If I get to it, I'll post a couple of Ed's slides listing all the wars the French have fought over the centuries. There are many.
Forget Ed's slides. Check this out.
France may also be the longest continuously existing state, btw. Another thing I didn't know.
Ed says Glen told the soldiers that they have to think of the French military as the Marines; they are that good.
He also made a point that had never occurred to Ed or me although it's obvious once you hear it: armies need to fight wars. Meaning: the only way to stay in practice is to fight real wars. War exercises aren't enough.
The French army fights real wars. Glen showed videos of the Mali operation, and the take-away was essentially that the French army is brilliant. French soldiers were doing 9000-mile sorties and making them look like a field trip to the recycling plant.
He also showed photos (videos?) of the German army, which is choc-a-bloc with expensive weaponry and aircraft, but whose soldiers haven't fought in a real battle since --- WWII? His opinion is that if something happens in Europe, only two countries will be prepared to fight: England and France.
In terms of defense, the issue is Russia, which has been sending probes into the airspace over the Baltic States (I now know what the Baltic states are, so time well spent...) and over Sweden. Apparently Russia is too intimidated by Finland to poke its nose into Finnish air space.
Russia also stages showy war exercises to practice an invasion of the Baltic states. The Russian army is doing one now, I think -- now, or not long from now. Military analysts assume Russia would like to take back the Baltic states because they have warm-water ports, which don't freeze in winter. Russia is too weak to attempt that now, but, on the other hand, Putin may not know that. He may be surrounded by people telling him the country is a mighty power; there is no way to know.
At dinner Glen told Ed that his first experience as a soldier was in Northern Ireland. In a situation like that, he said, you have to pay as much attention to the men under your command as you do to the situation you're trying to control because the men you lead are 18- and 19-years old and terrified. One of his soldiers came within a hair's breadth of shooting a civilian because the man was walking down the street carrying an umbrella in the rain.