Story by Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Deal
Battle Group Poland
GAIŽIŪNAI AIRFIELD, Lithuania — After 11 days of combined arms live-fire exercises, air assault training, forward passage of lines and a tactical river crossing, Exercise Iron Wolf 17, one of Lithuania’s largest military exercises, ceremoniously came to a close June 23.
Iron Wolf, a component of Saber Strike 17, is a multinational training exercise in Lithuania designed to strengthen relationships between NATO Allies and improve interoperability.
“Today we face many security challenges in the region and because of this, skilled military services are highly valued and appreciated. During these exercises you showed preparedness for this mission,” Minister of Defense of Lithuania Raimondas Karoblis said in his opening remarks. “I’m sure every Lithuanian is grateful for your devotion and commitment to the defense of our homeland. You deserve exceptional thanks.”
For the first time in the exercise’s history, NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups were brought together as part of a multinational division to conduct integrated, synchronized and deterrence-oriented training designed to improve the interoperability and readiness of the participating nations’ armies.
This year’s training objective focused on defending the Suwalki Gap, a 65-mile stretch of farmland, woods and low hills along the border between Poland and Lithuania. It is considered a weak spot for the Alliances because if it is seized by Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania would be cut off from NATO.
It began with a Road March by Battle Group Poland from Orzysz, Poland, to southern Lithuania, where they fell in with the German-led Battle Group Lithuania under the Iron Wolf Mechanized Infantry Brigade.
The highlight of the exercise, the river crossing, demonstrated the battle groups’ ability to integrate and quickly execute the mission to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and other high-level government and military officials during Distinguished Visitor Day June 20.
Self-propelled amphibious vehicles deliberately maneuvered into the Neris River to provide a temporary bridging capability and Apache attack helicopters provided air support for the safe crossing of tanks and combat vehicles from Iron Wolf Brigade and both battle groups.
“I am impressed by what I’ve seen today. The river crossing verifies that the battle groups are capable and combat ready,” said Stoltenberg in a press conference that day. “NATO battle groups show the continuing strength of the transatlantic bond. Soldiers from North America and Europe standing together, ready to defend each other.”