FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Vigilant Guard 2014 exercised the relationship between the military and civilian first responders from around the country, but also integrated several Lithuanian military and civil response officers as part of Pennsylvania's long standing relationship with Lithuania.
Hosted by Pennsylvania, this iteration of the U.S. Northern Command and National Guard Bureau Vigilant Guard exercise was the largest to date. Pennsylvania's state partner Lithuania gladly accepted Pennsylvania and the United States' invitation to participate in this domestic preparedness exercise.
"Our main focus is conventional war-fighting and this is a different type of exercise than we usually do back home," said Maj. Arnas Mikaila, a planning officer in the Lithuania Armed Forces.
Vigilant Guard is a domestic preparedness exercise that tests the readiness of the National Guard and its ability to work with federal, state and local emergency responders in a crisis.
Mikaila was one of the commanding officers for the group of Lithuanian troops that traveled to America for Vigilant Guard. He's responsible for conducting a similar Lithuanian exercise in October.
"Personally, I'm able to take some of these experiences back and use them in planning the exercise in October," he said.
The Lithuanian armed forces primarily supported emergency responders with security in the past.
"My primary task was to come here and get knowledge and experience from how you would conduct such an exercise, especially on the military cooperation with civilian emergency agencies," said Mikaila.
The members of the Lithuania armed forces were integrated with Pennsylvania National Guard counterparts and participated in areas such as logistics, engineering, cyber and operations.
Mikaila was especially impressed with the reality-based field training exercises that were conducted at different locations. Areas were staged as if they were affected by the scenario and the guardsmen and responders had to use the proper protective equipment and safety procedures in order to stabilize the scenario given.
"It's really good to see how you train your Soldiers," he said. "It's a big exercise that requires a lot of effort."
Before Vigilant Guard there was Amber Hope. Amber Hope, an exercise that is hosted by Lithuania for NATO forces, historically has included Pennsylvania National Guard Soldiers and Airmen. The Guard members served as medical instructors, command staff observers, administrators and support personnel.
Mikaila expressed his appreciation for being able to observe and participate in Vigilant Guard and would like to bring even more Lithuanian Soldiers the next time.
"I hope the future brings more training events for further cooperation," he said.
Pennsylvania has a long history with Lithuania including numerous exercises here and in Lithuania as well as combat deployments to Afghanistan. Last year Lithuania and Pennsylvania celebrated 20 years as partners in the State Partnership Program.