Brothers in arms: 30 years of military cooperation between Lithuania and Pennsylvania

Brothers in arms: 30 years of military cooperation between Lithuania and Pennsylvania

Chief of Defence Lt Gen Valdemaras Rupšys met with Adjutant-General of Pennsylvania Maj Gen Mark J. Schindler, visited the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center and the U.S. Army War College during his visit to the United States. The 30th anniversary of cooperation under the State Partnership Program (SPP) was celebrated with a formal dinner attended by Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Josh Shapiro, Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States HE Audra Plepytė who arrived for the event from Washington, and PANG personnel. Participants overviewed the history of cooperation, conveyed acknowledgements and shared memories from various projects.

“The first step of our cooperation was taken 30 year ago with disembarking of the first PANG officer in Vilnius thus starting our mutual journey of a thousand miles. Nothing united us more than mutual tasks and challenges, exercises and training, planning and coordination, peacebuilding in Afghanistan together, and many more endeavors,” said Lt Gen Valdemaras Rupšys. “Peace and security, however, is not something we can get at a store and postpone, it is something to be taken care of today. And we are stronger in doing so with you.”

The long-standing cooperation between Lithuania and the PANG has been recognized with the “Partnership of the Year” PANG Bureau award at the annual SPP Partner Conference. The very first programme to launch the cooperation between the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Pennsylvania National Guard was aimed at bringing Lithuania closer to the Western military standard and compatibility. The results of mutual efforts distinguish us among the 88 programmes underway today with 100 countries worldwide.

Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard Major General Mark J. Schindler praised the longstanding cooperation saying that “Not programmes, schoolrooms or equipment but people build the cooperation which is now recognized with the “Partnership of the Year” award. It is the military personnel whose representation of our armed force and work together, mutual trust and learning, made the 30 years of cooperation and excellent results we are lauding today possible. Therefore, let me thank Lithuania for that cooperation and for being an excellent partner to PANG.”

The cooperation with the U.S. kicked off with the Mil to Mil programme aimed at bringing the Lithuanian Armed Forces closer to the Western military standard and interoperability. Lithuanian military personnel was familiarized with U.S. military bases, various training initiatives were launched, from paramedic to antitank capability training. The cooperation picked up pace in 2014 with the Platoon Exchange Program, a format under which Lithuanian Land Force infantry personnel and National Defence Volunteer Force members train at the Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center and range, while PANG troops and equipment take part in exercise sin Lithuania.

The cooperation with PANG intensified yet again in 2019 with the signature of agreement between the Lithuanian Land Force and the PANG 28th Infantry Division to develop a Division-level Command and Control Capability. In 2018 the PANG Red Horse Civil Engineer Team helped constructing an air-to-ground firing range at the Kazlų Rūda Training Area which is also used by Allied units conducting the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states.

The earlier stages of cooperation also encompassed the international operation in Afghanistan where PANG military personnel served in composition of the Lithuanian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team of Ghor province in 2009-2012. PANG combat engineers and instructors have been training in the international exercise Engineer Thunder since 2017 improving engineer support, support to infantry maneuver skills and unit level interoperability. PANG troops joined Exercise Iron Wolf series that year as well.

One of the key area of cooperation between Lithuania and the U.S. is cyber security and cyber defence capability development. PANG attended the international cybersecurity Exercise Amber Mist 2022, take into account the Regional Cyber Defence Centre established in Kaunas in 2021 as a platform of practical regional cooperation that would help guard critical infrastructure elements of different countries against cyber attacks, and cooperate with it in elections security and 5G areas.  

UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters will enter service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces in 2024, this is one more area of cooperation with PANG: Capt Matas Leckas and Capt Valius Urbonas of the Lithuanian Air Force graduated the UH-60M Aviator Qualification Course at the U.S. Army Aviation Center in the U.S. and agreements are in place for further pilot and maintenance personnel training.

Lithuania will mark Freedom Day on August 26-27, the withdrawal of the invader Russian army from the territory of Lithuania 30 year ago. The date will be celebrated with an international NATO military band festival, Military Tattoo Lithuania 2023, which will be attended by the PANG Band alongside nine other NATO bands. Top command of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and the Pennsylvania National Guard will update the cooperation agreement between the two forces on this occasion at a ceremony at the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania.