VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade began a multinational convoy of more than 2,600 kilometers home to Italy Oct. 24, 2015, after a five-month rotation in Lithuania in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
This convoy, one of three known as Operation Bayonet Thrust, is the capstone event for the paratroopers of Company D, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, who have spent the past five months living and training alongside their Lithuanian army counterparts in Panevezys, about two hours from Vilnius.
The road march will take them from Lithuania to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia before arriving home to Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy, where the battalion is based. In each country where the paratroopers stop, public events with allied military and government leaders - along with the local citizens are planned.
The first public event was held in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, where an interested public got a chance to meet with U.S. and Lithuanian troops and also see some military equipment up close.
"It's always good to have events like this with the public, so they can see who we are and what the military does," said Lithuanian Pfc. Ieva Markevichiene, a civil affairs specialist with the Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces. "It's important to provide a public presence, it helps to strengthen understanding between the civilian and military populations."
U.S. Army Sgt. Terrence McGee, a healthcare specialist assigned to Company D agrees.
"It was nice to meet the Lithuanian public," he said. "This deployment, working alongside our allies in the Lithuanian army has been a good experience for me. You don't really know anything about anyone until you go to their part of the world and see what their lives are like. I'm happy I've had this opportunity."
The event, held in front the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Vladislav, attracted many people, young and old, including domestic and international tourists, as well as downtown workers and politicians.
"Public events like this are important, and it's an honor for me to be here," said Gabrielius Landsbergis, a member of the European Parliament for Lithuania, who came to meet with U.S. and Lithuanian troops. "It's important for the people of Lithuania to see and personally experience the people and equipment who are keeping their land safe and secure."
According to Landsbergis, the American presence in the Baltics gives Lithuanians a sense of reassurance.
"We feel and know we're not alone, we're among friends," he said. "It's essential for U.S. and Lithuanian troops to train together - in fact, there needs to be more combined training like this."
American troops answered questions and met with people for more than two hours and shared their experiences with anyone who asked.
"The most interesting part about being here in Lithuania, besides the great training, was really bonding with my Lithuanian army counterparts and working with them," said Capt. Helaman Fepuleai, commander, Company D. "Even though our tactics and techniques are a little different, I really learned a lot from them, especially on the subject of defensive operations.
While these are their last couple of days in Lithuania, some American paratroopers are already thinking about coming back.
"It was a great opportunity to be here," said Fepuleai. "It's a wonderful country and the people are supportive and friendly to work with. If I get a chance to come back, I'd like to continue and expand our training together to a higher level."
And many Lithuanians would have no problem with that.
"It's really great to have the Americans here, working together with our soldiers," said Gilbertas Rechifeachas, a lawyer and small business owner who lives and works in Vilnius. "I thank you for being here. I feel safe and feel that America cares about small countries like Lithuania. God bless America!"
After the event, the paratroopers, with the assistance of the Lithuanian army military police convoyed to Marijampole, Lithuania, where they will stay the night. The next scheduled public event is in Rzeszow, Poland, Oct. 27.
Operation Atlantic Resolve is a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and to enduring peace and stability in the region, in light of Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the U.S. Army contingency response force in Europe and is capable of deploying ready forces to conduct the full range of military operations across the U.S. European, Africa and Central Commands' areas of operations within 18 hours.