By Sgt. A.M. LaVeyNovember 2, 2015
WARSAW, Poland -- Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade crossed the Lithuanian border at Kalvarija into Poland, Oct. 25, 2015, during the second day of Operation Bayonet Thrust, a more than 2,600 kilometer-long convoy returning the paratroopers home to Italy after a five-month rotation in Lithuania.
The paratroopers, from Company D, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, have been training with Lithuanian forces in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States' continued commitment to European security and regional stability.
After Poland, Bayonet Thrust will take the paratroopers through four more countries, including Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia before returning to Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.
An operation of this nature requires the support and cooperation of every nation that the convoy passes through.
"This convoy wouldn't have been possible without the cultivated relationships that we've been making within the NATO alliance," said 1st Lt. Filiberto Pacheco, a platoon leader with Company D. "This operation really highlights the strong rapport we have with our allies, and also our ability to move a large number of paratroopers, weapons and equipment throughout Europe with ease."
Each night, the convoy stops to allow the paratroopers to rest and to conduct any needed maintenance on their vehicles. It also allows the Americans to interact more with host-nation militaries.
"The Lithuanians have been feeding and housing us the entire time we've been in Lithuania," said Pacheco. "Their immeasurable support demonstrates our combined commitment and the strength of our partnership - we couldn't have done this without their support and cooperation."
It takes civil and military collaboration at the highest levels to move across cross borders and move freely through densely populated areas without issue.
"Allied forces have played a key part in moving us rapidly and safety these long distances," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Thompson, a platoon sergeant with Company D. "They are facilitating our move and helping to maintain security. This is the longest movement we have done has a company and it is proof that with our allies and partners, that we can go anywhere and do anything - and we're ready and able to do it."
While the week-long convoy serves the practical purpose of returning the Soldiers to their home station, it is also providing necessary practical training in mission command, strategic access and interoperability; showcasing the forwardly-deployed 173rd as the U.S. Army Contingency Response force in Europe and promoting its capability to deploy ready forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the European theater.
"In the event of a real-world situation, our equipment is ready and we can really move anywhere in a small out amount of time - it's a pretty big deterrent," said Pacheco. "Training in the Baltics and Poland, we've learned the capabilities of their militaries. It's been a great experience and I've learned that they are committed to being here for us and they certainly know - even more now - that we are here for them.
The U.S. paratroopers, partnered with allied forces, will meet and greet the local communities along the route, demonstrating the alliance's operation freedom of movement in order to create a strong Europe. The next event is scheduled for the morning of Oct. 27, 2015, in Rzeszow, Poland.