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VILNIUS, Lithuania – Three Baltic states are focusing the laser on the same goal: protecting their independence and territorial integrity.

The chief of the National Guard Bureau heard the same message in visits to each country, as part of a five -nation visit to recognize and strengthen the National Guard’s cooperative security ties with countries. Eastern Europe and the Baltic were threatened by Russia’s violent invasion, and instability. Ukraine.

“I’m here to reinforce the vital importance of these partnerships,” Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson. “Security co -operation is one of the most important tasks the National Guard performs – and these collaborative partnerships promote the readiness and co -operation of our key units.”

Nearly 30 years ago, a seed was planted in the Baltics, a seed that grew beyond the imagination of visionary leaders who nurtured it into the 93-nation Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.

In 1993, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania each partnered with the National Guard, the first three countries to join the SPP.

Thirty years ago, what began as personal relations with Maryland, Michigan and Pennsylvania has matured into a regional organization: all three states have access to the education and capabilities of the states. all three and – through them – the expertise and resources of the 450,000- strong National Guard in all 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia.

“As the military strength of the Baltic nations grows, so does the individual partnership,” Hokanson said.

The SPP assisted in the preparations of each nation to join NATO. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian troops were stationed in Iraq and/or Afghanistan with their National Guard partners. The SPP continues to assist as the armed forces of each nation continue to improve their professional skills and update their military equipment.

Each nation, of course, is also unique:

– Estonia is very strong on online defense, prompted by the attack on Russia’s network in 2007 that paralyzed the entire country. It hosts the NATO Cyber ​​Defense Center of Excellence and is the association’s vice president for cybersecurity issues. The Maryland National Guard’s Cyber ​​Operations Group has contributed to what we learned from Estonians.– The brand is still part of the Estonian and Lithuanian military design; Latvia has a strong presence of volunteers.- Estonia also hosts the Baltic Defense College, an integrated, senior military training organization.- Latvia hosts the NATO Center of Excellence for Strategic Communications, a resource war was given to Russia by constant broadcasts.- Latvia is already a qualified Joint Tactical Air Controller and the first NATO country outside the United States to develop JTACs.- In 1990, Lithuania became the first Soviet Republic declares independence, initiating the collapse of the first Soviet Union.- In 2020, during The COVID-19 epidemic, Lithuania donated personal protective equipment to Pennsylvania as a token of gratitude for their permanent partner.

Each state borders Russia and shares a painful history of Soviet occupation. Today, Russians persecute and kill Ukrainians, massacring people and destroying towns with guns – the same methods they used in the Baltics in the 1940s.

The three countries have generously contributed to Ukraine’s defense of its country and blocked Russian media coverage in their countries. Ukrainian flags, posters, photos and other displays of support are common in all three countries, and some teams wear Ukrainian flags under their own banners. in their uniforms.

During his visits to the three countries, Hokanson met with U.S. ambassadors and senior security and military leaders of the host countries. He attended a panel discussion in Estonia at the Baltic Defense College and toured cyber defense operations. In Latvia, he visited soldiers at the Adazi training center, including the headquarters of the NATO unit.

“Ukrainians are defending our values,” Hokanson said during his visits.

And he was told, “A Russian man killed in Ukraine doesn’t come here: This is our war.”

And, “There’s no way we’re going back [to Russian rule.] We’d rather die than go back.”

Hokanson assured his allies about the American commitment to its NATO allies and the National Guard’s commitment to its cooperative partners. As the idea underlines, while he was there, the Vermont National Guard F-35 Lightning multirole fighter jet flew low off the Baltic coast on a NATO mission to protect the skies of Europe.

If those who do not know history are punished to repeat it, it can be explained by the existence of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania in Vilnius, which Hokanson visited on the last day of his trip.

The center is housed in a building used first by the KGB, then by the Gestapo during the Nazi regime, and then restored by the KGB during the Soviet era. Visitors can view the cells where Lithuanians were detained, tortured and killed.

Lithuanians died recently in 1991: 23 were killed and 900 injured in defense of the country’s new independence.

On the other side of the Baltics, the stories handed down by past generations are so tragic, and the memories of many are vividly alive to allow for complacency.

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