RUKLA, Lithuania -- In one of the largest combined exercise in Lithuania, NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups maneuvered across the Suwalki Gap to demonstrate freedom of movement throughout Eastern Europe, June 20, 2017.
The river crossing was a movement exercise conducted by NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups Poland and Lithuania, during Exercise Iron Wolf, a component of Saber Strike 17. The battle groups conducted operations to test their ability to mobilize quickly across the river, using resources available to overcome terrain-based obstacles.
"We have seen their professionalism, their dedication, and we have seen how 10 NATO allies can act together as one," said Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general. "I am impressed by what I've seen today and would like to thank Lithuania for hosting this exercise and providing so many NATO Allies the chance to exercise and train together."
Assets utilized in the exercise were the M3 Amphibious Bridging and Ferrying System connected to form a bridge for vehicles to cross, which later separated and closed. Two Apache helicopters from Task Force Phoenix, 3rd Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, out of Fort Drum, N.Y, hovered overhead, providing air support as the M3 Rig returned minutes later to double as a ferry for any remaining vehicles.
The exercise was an incredible demonstration of the Battle Groups speed in assembly and collective strength. The event was heavily populated with military leaders, members of parliament, media and civilian members of the community. In particular, Dalia Grybauskaite, president of the Republic of Lithuania; Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general; Lt. Gen. Jonas Vytautas Zukas, chief of defense of Lithuania; Gen. Volker Wieker, inspector general of the German Bundeswehr, were present for Exercise Iron Wolf.
Stoltenberg stated the creation of the battle group is a response to the changed security environment. The river crossing verifies that the battle group is capable and combat ready.
Combined exercises offer new opportunities for training and interaction between countries. Preparation is an integral key to success. All NATO forces are capable of assembling with speed to a crisis, he said.
"What we've seen is that twenty nations, who are all participating together in this exercise throughout the region, it's really phenomenal," Grybauskaite said. "We need to learn to communicate, learn to defend, learn to fight together and this is a demonstration of unity and how important organization still is."
There is room for improvement. NATO must be flexible and adapt to new challenges, to not only learn but direct those lessons into positive results, she relayed.
Grybauskaite remained firm in her belief of the battle group's development and the unity of NATO Allies.
"We, as Allies, are ready, strong, and we are all together."