RUKLA, Lithuania (May 20, 2014) -- Secretary of the Army John McHugh met with paratroopers from 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, here, Sunday, during an official visit to assess the results of the brigade's recent unscheduled deployment to the Baltic nations and Poland.

The paratroopers in Lithuania are participating in Exercise Black Arrow, a training event designed to improve interoperability between NATO land forces. Paratroopers from the combined force conducted an airfield seizure the previous day as part of the tactical scenario.

"We are currently doing an exercise in which we are partnered with the Lithuanians," said Maj. Anthony Costello, commander of the brigade's element here. "One of our companies is integrated into one of their battalions. It's a phenomenal opportunity for us to work on increasing our NATO interoperability."

"Your participation in this mission is critical," said McHugh as he spoke with American and Lithuanian troops in the field. "This is a valuable opportunity to work with our allies and to learn from each other."

McHugh will also meet with other elements of the brigade deployed to Latvia and Estonia, as well as the military leadership of those nations.

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.

Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 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.