RUKLA, Lithuania (May 14, 2014) -- American paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade "Sky Soldiers," and their allies in the Lithuanian Mechanized Infantry Brigade "Iron Wolf," marked the opening of Exercise Black Arrow 2014 with a ceremony here, Monday.
The tactical field exercise, hosted by Lithuania, will focus on defensive operations and increasing interoperability between the two NATO-allied units.
"This is a ground-breaking event for everybody," said Maj. Gen. Almantas Leika, commander of the Lithuanian Land Forces. "First of all, this is the first field training exercise that the Iron Wolf Soldiers and [173rd] "Sky Soldiers" train together. Secondly, it's new for us that we will train all arms into this exercise, including an airborne assault."
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct the full of range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Commands areas of responsibility.
The Iron Wolf Brigade is the core unit of the Lithuanian army, and a large portion of the country's contribution to the NATO alliance's collective defense.
"It's going to be an awesome event," said Capt. Nicholas Salimbene, commander, Company B, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. "The first week we will be doing combined platoon-level exercises, then following week we'll be conducting company-level defensive operations; working hand-in-hand with Lithuanians the whole time."
A major part of the exercise will be a combined American-Lithuanian airborne operation.
"This is where we show everyone what we do," said Salimbene. "We're jumping into Jonava Air Field where, with our Lithuanian allies, we will seize and hold it, then go into defensive operations with soldiers from the Duke Vaidotas Mechanized Infantry Battalion."
This exercise will act as a certification for the Lithuanian staff, and provide training for both units leading up to Exercise Saber Strike, a security cooperation exercise focused on the three Baltic States later this June.
"Training alongside our American allies, we will achieve much more in this exercise," said Leika. "We will continue building and maintaining the trust and confidence in each other that we achieved during our operations together in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan."
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, as part of an unscheduled land-forces exercise to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.