NEWS | June 15, 2017

Pennsylvania and Lithuania State Partnership Program provides mutual training benefits

By Sgt. Steve Johnson 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

PABRADE, Lithuania - Approximately 300 Lithuanian soldiers joined 41 U.S. Soldiers from the Pennsylvania National Guard for joint training in urban warfare operations on Wednesday near Pabrade, Lithuania, as part of Exercise Iron Wolf 17.

The Guard members assigned to C Company, 1/110th Infantry, worked with their State Partnership Program allies from Lithuania on mastering tasks such as, strong point defense, entry and clearing of a room, casualty extraction and squad tactical movements, as well as many other important tasks related to urban combat operations.

Staff Sgt. Justin Bakow, a platoon sergeant with C Company, 1/110th Infantry, felt that the opportunity to train with their Lithuanian partners was a great training opportunity for the Guard troops.

"This training is important because it allows us to understand how the Lithuanians operate, so that should the need arise, we will be able to operate alongside our partners," Bakow said.

Bakow also felt that the training was a critical element in ensuring that U.S. forces are prepared to work with European allies in times of crisis, and ensuring interoperability and joint readiness was a top priority during the mission for the Pennsylvania Guard members.

"I think this exercise fosters interoperability at all levels, from the battalion pushing down orders to the company and then the platoons executing," Bakow said. "It allows us to maneuver with our Lithuanian partners in a manner that"s seamless and really builds confidence."

That interoperability, mutual confidence and respect between the U.S. and Lithuanian forces is one of the main reasons for the establishment of the State Partnership Program in 1991. The State Partnership Program includes 73 unique security partnerships involving 79 nations around the globe, and is considered a key U.S. security cooperation tool by the Department of Defense.

1st Lt. Daniel Clarke, Charlie Company platoon leader, believes that the SPP is a valuable tool for ensuring the readiness of his Soldiers.

"The State Partnership Program is extremely valuable because our sponsorship of Lithuania does a lot to prepare their military, as well as gives our military a different perspective of how we can operate together," Clarke said. "Additionally, it gives us an opportunity to prepare our units for working with allied forces."

Clarke also feels that the SPP is an essential part of building a strong Europe that is focused and ready to respond to any challenge.

"Building a strong relationship with our allies is extremely important, because you never know where conflict is going to pop up and you never know what challenges NATO is going to face. That"s why it"s important to stay close with our NATO allies," Clarke said.

The Guard troops of C Company, 1/110th Infantry, have been working for years on establishing that alliance with Lithuanian counterparts through communication and shared experience of what works. With Exercise Iron Wolf, the work is beginning to pay off.

"I think this training is giving our allies an excellent example for how they can conduct their own urban operations," Clarke said. "Additionally, a lot of our Soldiers who fought in urban environments in Iraq are able to use some of their techniques and specialties that they learned over there to give the Lithuanians a good example of what works."

Staff Sgt. Bakow agreed by emphasizing how the partnership between the two allies has benefitted soldiers both personally and professionally.

"The mutual training we have conducted with the Lithuanian army has obviously had a really positive effect, on everyone"s skill sets," Bakow said. I"ve really seen each of us grow enormously. I think each of us is taking away some valuable lessons learned, it means a lot to them and they feel much better that we're here and know we're ready to go with them at any moment."