FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. - Continuing to foster a state-country partnership that began in 1993, Brig. Gen. Tony Carrelli, adjutant general, Pennsylvania National Guard, hosted a visit with Lithuania's chief of defense Oct. 15 at the state's joint force headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap, Annville, Pennsylvania.
The day's events began with a meeting between Carrelli and Lt. Gen. Jonas Vytautas Zukas, chief of defense of Lithuania, and their respective staffs. While on post, Lithuanian officials received tours of the PANG joint emergency operations center and various training facilities. They also got an in-depth look at the PANG's unmanned aerial vehicle fleet and Advanced Joint Terminal Attack Controller Training System, which provides realistic battle-space scenarios that prepare Airmen - particularly those from the 148th Air Support Operations Squadron - for field missions.
During the luncheon and gift-giving portion of the day's activities, Carrelli expressed to Vytautas Zukas the value of the State Partnership Program.
"We are so proud of the partnership we've been able to forge," Carrelli said. "Our objective here today is to showcase a little of what we have available regarding our training assets and capabilities. We are always ready and willing to assist with collaborative objectives. I know this partnership is only going to grow stronger and we'll continue to do more together."
The Lithuanian chief of defense echoed Carrelli's sentiments.
"We have the feeling we've spent this day among friends," Vytautas Zukas said. "Thank you for your continued friendship and cooperation; it's very important. We are thankful for what we've done together in the past, and we look forward to the future and what we can accomplish together."
Also attending the event Oct. 15 was Lithuanian Ambassador Rolandas Krisciunas. Although this was his first visit to the PANG, he said the depth and value of the PANG and Lithuanian partnership was unmistakable.
"We've already cooperated in so many activities together," the ambassador said. "We understand each other almost without speaking. When you have people working together, risking their lives for a common cause, you develop a special bond. This partnership benefits everyone involved."
Army Maj. Randy Lutz, director of the State Partnership Program for the PANG, helped coordinate the day's activities and explain the program's effectiveness to those in attendance.
"We believe we have one of the best State Partnership Programs out there, and the metrics show it," said Lutz. "Our cooperative missions have continued to evolve as a result. Typically, we've focused on capability development - what subject matter experts and equipment we have that we can pair up (with Lithuania) and help promote modernization efforts. Our vision is to improve and enable defense capabilities, while continuing to foster our personal and professional relationships."
"We have consistently increased the training we've done together," the major added. "Last year, we conducted 37 training events together, which was an increase from previous years. We have 45 planned in 2017, and we want to see that number continue to rise."
State Partnership Program
The State Partnership Program is a joint Department of Defense initiative managed by the National Guard and executed by the states. In began in 1993 with partnerships between U.S. states and newly independent former Soviet republics. The Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuania were paired that year. The program has grown significantly since its inception with 70 current partnerships worldwide.
The program links a state's national guard with a partner nation's military and security forces in an effort to build and foster a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship.
Goals of the program include supporting combatant commanders and embassy security cooperation objectives; providing an innovative - yet low-cost and small footprint - security cooperation program. The program also seeks to cultivate relationships that enhance influence and promote access and help train National Guards members for missions across the globe.
Typical partner activities include disaster preparedness and crisis management collaboration; exploration of aviation, military medical and engineer activities; leadership development; border and port security research; critical infrastructure and resources protection planning; and deployment planning and family support.