FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - The former president of Lithuania, Vytautas Landsbergis, met with the adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, as part of his trip to the U.S., March 15, 2013.
The Pennsylvania National Guard has a 20-year relationship with Lithuania, its sister nation, in the National Guard's State Partnership Program.
The Pennsylvania-Lithuanian partnership was established in 1993, just three years after Landsbergis was elected to lead the Supreme Council of Lithuania as its president and serve as head of state.
Landsbergis led the parliamentary session restoring the independence of Lithuania from the Soviet Union March 11, 1990.
Landsbergis reflected on Lithuania, during the early 1990s, right after the declaration.
"We (Lithuanians) were students of democracy," he said. "The U.S. has always been a pillar of democracy."
Landsbergis said he appreciated the State Partnership Program between the Lithuanian armed forces and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
During the gathering of Pennsylvania National Guard senior leadership and Lithuanian diplomats, Craig discussed the benefits of the program for all parties.
"We have different branches and a diverse force," he said. "Working with our Lithuanian counterparts helps our guard members learn to work through language barriers and see how our NATO partners operate."
Capt. Teresa Ruotolo, State Partnership Program coordinator for Pennsylvania, added that the benefits include the exchange of ideas and different tactics.
"Additionally we (the guard) are uniquely suited to this mission because we are able to maintain long-standing relationships," Ruotolo said. "Our Soldiers and Airmen continue to train with our Lithuanian partners throughout their careers. Both groups come up through the ranks together."
In reference to this concept, Ruotolo noted her father-in-law, retired Lt. Col. Leonard Ruotolo, helped start the program for the Pennsylvania National Guard in the early 1990s.
"He's described visiting Lithuania in 1992, just two years after Lithuania's declaration of statehood," Ruotolo said.
As the program moves into its third decade, several avenues for beneficial training for both countries are starting to develop, including cyber warfare.
Additionally, both entities are looking forward to their participation in Saber Strike, a U.S. Army Europe-led, multinational exercise held in the Baltic states each year. The exercise promotes regional stability and security, strengthens international military partnering and fosters trust while improving interoperability between participating nations.
Ǆygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuanian ambassador to the U.S. spoke of the past and the future of the State Partnership Program in Pennsylvania.
"We've trained together for 20 years," he said. "Recently, we deployed to Afghanistan together."
But, threats still exist globally, he said.
"Our three Baltic states are a shining example of democracy, but challenges (to democracy) still exist worldwide," said Pavilionis.
Since its inception, Pennsylvania National Guard members and Lithuanian military members and civic officials have traveled to each other's countries on more than 275 occasions to observe training and exchange experiences.
The National Guard's 65-nation state partnership program supports U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations via military, sociopolitical and economic conduits at the local, state and national level.