TATA, Hungary - Paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade along with NATO allies from the 25th Infantry Brigade, Hungarian Defense Forces met with the Hungarian local public, Oct. 27, 2015, after day six of a weeklong multinational convoy known as Operation Bayonet Thrust.
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. The road march has taken the paratroopers of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment from Estonia to Hungary, and eventually will conclude in Vicenza, Italy, where the battalion is based.
"Bayonet Thrust is a multi-pronged movement that moves us from the Baltic states back to Vicenza, Italy," said Capt. Matt Heath, commander, Company D. "We started in Estonia moving south one country per day. We've been to Latvia, Lithuania, we spent two days in Poland and now we're in Hungary."
"The operation itself has been running very smooth," said Heath. "Our paratroopers have had great opportunities to interact with each nation."
Paratroopers have spent the last five months in Estonia in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, the ongoing operation serves as 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 road march is a culmination of Atlantic Resolve and will return the company home.
Upon arriving to the city, paratroopers were met with curiosity and then slowly as public interest peaked peoples cells phones came out to snap pictures of the passing road march. Then people began to smile and soon after some even began to wave.
"This event is a great opportunity for our paratroopers to see the public support for us being here in Europe and especially in the Baltic states and then moving through NATO countries," said Capt. Heath. "Professionally, Soldier to Soldier, those partnerships are easy to identify and easy to work with. Today is especially special to see the children and the families to come out and the excitement in their faces. Not only that, but to see our vehicles and our Soldiers in full kit standing beside their Hungarian counterparts."
The city sits in a valley about 70 kilometers from Budapest, the capital. The Hungarian army alongside the brigade hosted an official meet and greet allowing interested public a chance to meet them.
"I am very grateful to our American allies for the opportunity to conduct training and to continually strengthen our interoperability and at the same time I expect that my Soldiers in my [brigade] are able to learn a lot, how to work together and be better with efficiency in the future," said Brig. Gen. Gabor Horvath, commander, 25th Infantry Brigade, Hungarian Defense Forces.
Edward Loo, deputy chief of mission, U.S. Embassy Budapest agrees, events like this prove NATO member countries are able to work together rapidly and safely, to move military forces long distances across alliance borders.
"This event is a great demonstration of the interoperability of our forces," said Loo. "It shows the importance of freedom of movement where our forces have been able to transfer between countries efficiently and quickly, which is a great signal for our cooperation."
Throughout the day, both Hungarian and American soldiers interacted with members of the local community answering questions and letting people experience being a soldier. Locals were encouraged to put on full military kits to include improved outer tactical vest and an advanced combat helmet, and some people even got behind the wheel of the military vehicles and tanks on display.
More importantly though, this event is significant because it allows the NATO allies to build good will with the local community along the route and continue to demonstrate freedom of movement.
"This is a great event," said Loo. "It's a great symbol of strong military to military cooperation between Hungary and the United States. Hungary has been a member of NATO for fifteen years now and that is one of the strongest parts of our relationship, security, which encompasses many different areas. So we are pleased to be hosted by the Hungarian military. We also are very appreciative of the face that they've been able to participate fully in all of the exercises - Atlantic Resolve, Dragoon Crossing, Brave Warrior and others- especially when they have been drawn to other needs in other areas and other needs of Hungary."
This event does not conclude the road march for the paratroopers of Company D. The next stop with be in Postojna, Slovenia and then home.
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.