By Spc. Jared Sollars, 145 MPAD, Oklahoma Army National Guard July 7, 2014
VALGA, Estonia (July 7, 2014) -- Thousands of people crowded the streets here, watching with excitement as soldiers marched through their hometown for the Victory Day parade June 23.
Onlookers waved Estonian and Latvian flags while soldiers from those nations passed by. The crowds erupted with excitement and cheers when the U.S. flag appeared, followed by the maroon berets of the paratroopers of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Every year, the Estonian Defense League and the Estonian army's volunteer force hold a parade celebrating the Baltic nation's victory over German forces attempting to establish dominance in the Baltic, on June 23, 1919.
The parade rotates between the country's 15 counties. This year the parade was held in Valga and crossed into Valka, Latvia, Estonian Defense League Capt. Erik Reinhold said.
"We celebrate victory in the Estonian Liberation War," said Reinhold, the commander of the Defense League School. "This was the final battle between Estonian forces and German forces. So, we celebrate the win of this war from Soviet Russia and Germany."
The paratroopers of Troop B were among hundreds of Soldiers from seven countries participating. Reinhold said troops from the Estonian Defense League, Latvia, the U.S., the U.K., Sweden, Denmark and Finland participated in the parade.
Toomas Ilves, the Estonian president, presided over the parade, and greeted each unit before the parade began.
"The parade is the place to show what you have," Reinhold said. "When you have good friends and allies, it is always good to show it to the public that we are strong together."
Once the parade began, units marched through Valga, led by the Estonian soldiers and passed the president's reviewing stand. At the border crossing, the Latvian soldiers moved to the head of the parade to lead the column of international troops into their country, passing through streets flanked by Latvian flags.
At the end of the parade route Latvian defense minister Raimonds Vejonis addressed the troops. He told the Soldiers and surrounding crowds that during the fight against the Germans, Latvians and Estonians stood shoulder-to-shoulder and the battle highlights the nations' unity and cooperation.
"In cooperation, in solidarity we are force," Vejonis said. "Now we are members of NATO and we feel we are not alone. We are together with our partners from different countries."
The paratroopers of Troop B are in Estonia as part of an unscheduled land-forces exercise, demonstrating U.S. commitment to NATO allies in the Baltic region.
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The exercise's focus is to sustain interoperability with NATO nations.
Estonian Pvt. Urmas Vaher, who marched in the parade, said he was happy to see allied nations taking part in his country's celebration of freedom.
"I think it is good that our allies are here," Vaher said. "Our purpose is to show we can defend Estonia. With our allies here, people see someone is here; not occupying, but helping, and that is a good thing."