MARIJAMPOLE, Lithuania - "I have the best job in the world," said Pfc. Martin Martinez, an assistant gunner assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade. "We've done training events with the Finnish, Swedish, Danish [allies] and for the past few months, the Estonians. Now we have Operation Bayonet Thrust, which are three convoys traveling through multiple countries followed by an airborne operation."
The convoy - known as Operation Bayonet Thrust - is a demonstration of NATO's ability to move forces freely across allied borders and maintain freedom of movement across the region. It's day two for paratroopers assigned to Company D continuing their road march from Estonia southwest toward Italy, finally crossing the border into Lithuania, Oct. 23, 2015.
"[Bayonet Thrust] is us showing our NATO allies that we're able to conduct multiple training events in multiple countries. You know, show them that were there," said Martinez.
Lithuania is one of six countries that paratroopers from the company will convoy through on their way home after a five month long deployment in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve. The three simultaneous convoys as a whole will span across nine countries total to include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics, Croatia, Slovenia, and finally Italy.
"This is the second day of our convoy," said U.S. Army paratrooper 2nd Lt. Dan Leininger a platoon leader assigned to Company D. "It's been really good to see the communication going from Estonia to Latvia and now Lithuania. At each border crossing, transferring military police authority has been really smooth."
Over the past few years, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, has built a name for itself as 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.
Though the brigade has worked with their NATO allies and partnered nations in previous exercises, it's been said that Bayonet Thrust is one of the largest convoy operations that the brigade has conducted concluding with an airborne operation.
More importantly though, Bayonet Thrust gives paratroopers the opportunity to show in action and not just by words, by making stops along the way and interacting with the local community, that NATO has a persistent presence in the region and throughout Europe.
Company D will pass through Poland next and then onto Hungary. In Tata, Hungary, a static display will be set up for everyone to meet and greet paratroopers from the brigade.
Follow the convoy on facebook at /173rd.IBCTA.Sky.Soldiersat or at #SkySoldiers.