They played the part of the enemy, jumping into hostile territory, digging holes where they would live for days, conducting surveillance on the Swedish troops training to defend their country.
And the wet was unyielding. It would rain, it would mist, it would be so humid they never got a chance to dry.
“I've only seen the sun a couple of times in the three weeks I’ve been here,” said 33-year-old Joshua Metcalf, a captain in the Nebraska Army National Guard from Valentine. “Precipitation to the point I've never seen in my life. Usually in Nebraska, it rains and then the sun comes out and dries everything up.”
Said Sgt. 1st Class Casey Lindsay of Lincoln: “They promised us it would be crappy, and they came through with their promise.”
But it wasn't all bad. When the 60 members of the Yutan-based Echo Company were allowed to climb out of their holes and sit down in the chow hall at Karlsborg, their Swedish hosts rewarded them for their service.
“I’ve probably gained a little weight, I’m not going to lie,” Lindsay said. “I really like the food.”
The soldiers returned home Friday after participating in Aurora 17, a three-week training exercise involving nearly 20,000 troops. The majority were Swedish forces, but military from seven other countries also participated.
Sweden coordinated the training to learn to better protect its eastern borders and islands against an attack from the east. Though the enemy was never named, Sweden's Armed Forces commander Micael Byden launched the drills earlier this month by talking about Russia's recent boldness in the Baltic.
Russia annexed Crimea three years ago, and is supporting rebels in the Ukraine. “Russia is the country that affects security in Europe right now with its actions ... so it is clear that we are watching very closely what Russia is doing,” he said.
But during the drills, the Nebraskans took the stage — on Gotland Island off Sweden's east coast, and on the mainland near Stockholm — as the enemies. They jumped out of airplanes, dug in and kept tabs on their targets, reporting back their numbers, activities and direction.
“Their logistics, their movements. We tell our higher headquarters where the enemy is going, so they have an idea where to amass combat power,” Metcalf said.
They were working side-by-side with Swedish forces, but they didn't encounter much of a language barrier, he said. Most people in Sweden, at least those under 40 or so, knew enough English to communicate.
And the Swedish forces knew what they were doing. They had been trained and taught differently than the Nebraskans, and there were times when they approached problems differently, Lindsay said.
But when it came time to jump, to fulfill their mission, the soldiers from two countries worked in rhythm.
“We're a half a world apart, but it's the same thing,” Lindsay said. “It's really amazing.”
The exercises went smoothly, Metcalf said. The Nebraskans stayed safe, and were rewarded with a morale-building evening in a nearby town Thursday before boarding a bus for the airport and the long trip home.
“We’ve been very lucky as far as no significant injuries,” Metcalf said, “and no international issues you're going to see on the news.”
But Lindsay wasn't sure he was ready to leave. His short deployment to Sweden was unlike his two tours in Afghanistan.
“It’s beautiful out here, absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “Everyone's nice, everyone says 'hi.' They're going to have a hard time getting me on the airplane.”