PANEVEZYS, Lithuania - The Soldiers moved through the forest, they knew the enemy was nearby; an enemy that was numerically superior to them. The only way they could survive the impending attack was to dig in and wait. So, they dug defensive fighting positions and reinforced them with corrugated iron and sand bags.
This was the scenario that Paratroopers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, faced during Exercise Strong Shield Oct. 22.
Strong Shield is a Lithuanian led international field tactical exercise that took place Oct. 20-23, and featured participants from across the Balkans and Belgium.
"This exercise was a great opportunity for our Soldiers," said the commander of the Lithuanian Forces at the closing ceremony. "You challenged our units and made them work hard to figure out how to succeed. Thank you for your hard work."
The exercise was beneficial for the Paratroopers because they were able to practice the very types of tactics they would need in a real world situation.
"Should the need for support in real world kinetic operations occur, I think it would look a lot like what we did over the past few days," said Capt. John Billington, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne). "Air Assaulting to a strategic point like an airfield, conducting a link up with the Lithuanians there, and tying into their operations plan is exactly what would happen in a real world situation," he said.
After linking up with the Lithuanians, the Paratroopers dug fox holes to wait for their numerically superior enemy.
"We are going to be attacked by the Belgians," said Sgt. Kraig Terbush, Able Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), as he stood in his foxhole. "They outnumber us, so we will try to take out as many of them as possible with our mortars and the Carl Gustav (anti-tank weapon), before we window out and fall back."
By "losing" to the Belgian force, the Americans were able to help them meet their training objective of breaching the American defense, seizing the nearby airfield. It also gave the Paratroopers the opportunity to practice operating behind enemy lines, as well as counter-mobility and survivability tactics.
"We were able to conduct harassing and interdiction raids across the enemy's rear echelons and command and control nodes," said Billington.
While practicing tactics and working with NATO Allies was a valuable experience, the most important part of Strong Shield was learning how strong the resolve of the Lithuanian National Defense Force is in defending their country.
"It's an honor to know these men, whom we would fight with anytime," said Billington.
Able and HHC Companies arrived in Lithuania last month to embark on a six-month rotation to train with their Lithuanian partners as part of Atlantic Resolve, a U.S. led effort being conducted in Eastern Europe to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region.
The 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vicenza, Italy, is the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of projecting forces to conduct a full range of military operations across the United States European, Central and Africa Command areas of responsibility within 18 hours.
U.S. Army Europe is uniquely positioned in its 51 country area of responsibility to advance American strategic interests in Europe and Eurasia. The relationships we build during more than 1,000 theater security cooperation events in more than 40 countries each year lead directly to support for multinational contingency operations around the world, strengthen regional partnerships and enhance global security.