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News | Sept. 21, 2021

Pa. Guard, Lithuanians train together in State Partnership Program platoon exchange

By Staff Sgt. Zane Craig Pennsylvania National Guard

Fort Indiantown Gap hosted 33 Soldiers from Lithuania’s land forces reserve component Sept. 6 to 17 for an annual platoon exchange, part of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s partnership with Lithuania through the National Guard's State Partnership Program.

Approximately 40 Soldiers from the Pennsylvania National Guard traveled to Lithuania at the same time for joint multinational training in engineering operations as part of Exercise Engineer Thunder.

“This exchange is important because it shows our partner and our adversaries we are able to operate in any environment safely and effectively,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Nebzydoski, security cooperation division coordinator for Pennsylvania's SPP.

Maj. Kenneth Swartzell, the Pennsylvania National Guard's SPP director, said this exchange has been highly productive after so much lost time and opportunity due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months.

The exchange, which was canceled last year due to COVId-19, took significant effort to plan and gain approval this year as well, especially with the Pa. National Guard’s high mobilization rate making it harder to find qualified Soldiers to participate, Swartzell said.

This determination to continue training and dedication to our partnership from both sides sends a clear message about our high state of readiness, said Nebzydoski.

“It’s not one-sided, Lithuanians are very focused, motivated and driven people,” he added. “We’ve basically grown out of teaching tactics and now we focus on strategic level engagement.”

The Lithuanian Soldiers partnered with a variety of Pa. Guard units during their time at Fort Indiantown Gap, including the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site (EAATS), Bolen air-to-ground range, Air Guard base firefighting and airfield arresting systems, and the Medical Battalion Training Site (MBTS).

Cpl. Vaclovas Stankevičius, an infantryman with 508th Company, 5th KASP (Lithuanian Home Guard) district, Lithuanian Land Forces, also participated in the platoon exchange in 2018 during which the platoon met with Americans in similar civilian professions to theirs, such as professors, lawyers, elected officials and municipal planners like Stankevičius.

“It was very interesting for me to see what was similar and not similar to Lithuanian infrastructure and American infrastructure planning,” he said. “Lithuania is like the rest of Europe in most ways, but the U.S. and Europe have bigger differences.”

Stankevičius said on his second trip to America, he was able to meet and interact with Americans from a greater variety of backgrounds and walks of life while visiting attractions in Central Pennsylvania like Gettysburg, and nearby cities like Baltimore. He was among the Soldiers training with MBTS.

“Training with them was very, very good, they have big hearts and we are very grateful to them,” said Stankevičius.

He added that while he has had medical training in Lithuania, the MBTS simulators here gave him a much more realistic training experience with combat effects.

Pennsylvania’s partnership with Lithuania has deepened and grown tremendously since 1993, building strong bonds of trust from the individual and platoon level to the highest levels of the military and government.

During their 28 year partnership, Pennsylvania and Lithuania have conducted more than 750 military and training exchanges, in addition to numerous joint deployments to Afghanistan as part of joint police operational mentor liaison teams and provincial reconstruction teams.