VILNIUS, Lithuania – The three countries in the Baltic region have one goal in mind: to defend their independence and territorial integrity.
The head of the National Guard’s office heard the same message during his visits to each country as part of a five-country visit to learn about and strengthen security cooperation between the National Guard and the Baltic States, which were subsequently threatened. on Russia ‘s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
“I am here to reinforce these partnerships,” said General Daniel Hokanson. “Security cooperation is one of the most important tasks of the National Guard, and this mutually beneficial partnership improves the readiness of our military and the work of the team.”
Almost 30 years ago, seeds were planted in the Baltic States that grew beyond the imagination of far-sighted leaders who grew them in the National Defense National Partnership Program of the Department of Defense.
In 1993, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania cooperated with the National Guard, the first of the three countries to join the newly established SPP.
Three decades later, what began as an individual relationship with Maryland, Michigan and the state of Pennsylvania becomes a regional group: all three states have access to training and opportunities in all three states, and through them, 450,000 people experience and resources. strong ground guards in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.
“When the military capabilities of the Baltic States have matured, so has every partnership,” said Hokanson.
The SPP facilitated each country’s preparations for joining NATO. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian forces have repeatedly participated in Iraq and / or Afghanistan with their National Guard partners. The SPP continues to help, as each country’s armed forces are constantly improving their professionalism and modernizing their military equipment.
Of course, each nation is also unique:
Estonia is particularly strong in cyber defense, fueled by Russia’s 2007 cyber attack that paralyzed the entire country. It houses NATO’s Center of Excellence for Cyber Defense and is the Alliance’s leading player in cyber security. The Maryland National Guard’s cyber operations team contributed to and learned from the Estonians.
– Conscription is still part of Estonian and Lithuanian military design; Latvia is a force for volunteers.
There is also the Baltic Defense College in Estonia, a joint military training institution for senior executives.
Latvia has a NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, which is a significant resource given Russia’s relentless disinformation campaign.
Latvia has expert tactical air control capabilities and was the first NATO country outside the United States to develop a JTAC.
In 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence, and the collapse of the former Soviet Union began.
– In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lithuania donated personal protective equipment to the State of Pennsylvania, thanking it for its continued cooperation.
Each country borders Russia and shares a painful history of Soviet occupation. Today, the Russians are brutalizing and killing Ukrainians, carrying out mass deportations and destroying cities with artillery – the same tactics they used in the Baltic States in the 1940s.
Three countries generously contributed to the protection of Ukraine and its homeland and banned Russian media coverage in their country. Ukrainian flags, posters, murals and other statements of support are widespread in all three countries, and some soldiers wear Ukrainian flags under their flag on uniforms.
During the visits to the three countries, Hocanson met with US ambassadors and senior defense and military leaders of the host countries. Join a roundtable discussion at the Baltic Defense College in Estonia and go on a tour of cyber defense operations. In Latvia, he visited the soldiers at the Ādaži Training Center, including the headquarters of the NATO Multinational Division.
“Ukrainians stand for our values,” Hookanson said during his visits.
He was told: “A Russian tank was killed in Ukraine. You will not come here: this is our war. “
And: “There is no way to return [to Russian domination.] We’d better die than return. “
Mr Hokanson reassured his colleagues of America’s unwavering commitment to its NATO allies and of the National Guard’s commitment to its security partners. As if to underline the point while he was there, the F-35 Lightning destroyers of the Vermont National Guard flew low along the Baltic coast on a NATO mission to defend Europe’s skies.
If the ignorant of history are judged by its recurrence, this may explain the presence of the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Center in Vilnius, which Hookanson visited on the last day of his trip.
The center is located in a building that was first used by the KGB, then by the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation, and again by the KGB during the Soviet era. Visitors can visit the cameras where Lithuanians were held, tortured and executed.
Lithuanians died recently in 1991: 23 killed and 900 wounded in defense of the country’s new independence.
Throughout the Baltics, the stories of past generations have been too painful, and the memories of many of them are still too vivid to be complacent.