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News | July 22, 2022

Pennsylvania Guard, SPP Partner Lithuania Join NATO Exercise

By Capt. Jodi Snyder, 171st Air Refueling Wing

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 258th Air Traffic Control Squadron attended the multinational joint Defender Europe 22 exercise with NATO and other military partners.

The exercise in May and June focused on building operational readiness and interoperability between allies and partners to train as they fight. The Airmen from the 258th went to Lithuania to collaborate with the Lithuanian Air Force and share their expertise on air traffic control operations.

“We are sharing our capabilities and working together to become more efficient. We are collaborating and placing an emphasis on modernization, especially with equipment,” said Capt. Benjamin Kaufman, an airfield operations officer at the 258th.

While the Airmen from the 258th worked directly with the Lithuanians, the exercise consisted of more than 8,000 participants from 11 countries. Over 1,200 Guard members participated.

“It’s important to see things at our level and how we fit into the bigger picture as a whole,” said Master Sgt. Frankie Perez, a mobile tower chief controller at the 258th.

“It was an amazing experience to walk in and see all the different flags on people’s shoulders knowing we are working together,” said Kaufman.

Participating countries practiced many operations, such as live ammunition exercises, road marches and river crossings. 

Members of the 258th partnered with Lithuania on airfield operations as part of the State Partnership Program. The Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuania have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau program since 1993.

“It was great to communicate our capabilities — what capabilities we have, what we can learn from each other, and even how we can work together in the future,” said Perez.

With all the moving pieces in a large-scale exercise, extensive support from each host nation was imperative.

“It was impactful to see all of the different NATO countries involved in the exercise,” Kaufman said. “With our State Partnership Program visit, we were able to discuss how our future engagement could benefit both the Lithuanians and the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.”