TALLINN, Estonia -- Maryland Army National Guard Soldiers and Airmen supported the Estonian defense forces May 2 - 12 during Exercise Hedgehog 2018, the largest training exercise conducted in Estonia. The exercise occurred as the Maryland National Guard celebrates the 25th anniversary of partnering with Estonia as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program, which links National Guard elements with partner nations worldwide.
Focused on territorial defense, as well as special operations capabilities, the exercise brought together elements of the Estonian Defense League, Women's Home Defense League, and regular Defense Force. Estonian police and border forces and emergency management personnel also participated. Additionally, more than 15,000 personnel from 15 NATO member-countries participated in the exercise.
The Maryland Guard was one of the first three partnerships in the SPP that began in 1993 as the Cold War came to a close.
"During the SPP's 25th anniversary, the Maryland Guard was honored to once again participate in this Estonian national exercise," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason W. Burns, bilateral affairs officer with the Maryland Guard.
Burns facilitates the exercise planning between Maryland Guard and Estonian units.
Maryland Guard personnel had the opportunity to integrate a wide variety of capabilities, enabling Soldiers and Airmen to fulfill specific training requirements, exchange critical tactics, techniques, and procedures and continue to reinforce security cooperation in the region.
"Annually, the Maryland National Guard typically schedules and accomplishes about 40 military-to-military training and exercise events," Burns said. "The Maryland Guard is fortunate to have such a close ally and partner nation."
Personnel from the Maryland Army National Guard's 629th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Battalion, based in Laurel, Maryland, provided expertise to two Estonian brigade intelligence sections. They supported the brigade commanders with operational planning, advised on fighting techniques, and engaged with the community throughout the exercise.
Meanwhile, Soldiers with the Maryland Army Guard's B Company, 2nd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group, based in Glen Arm, Maryland, took part by disrupting enemy actions against the Estonian Defense Force's 1st Brigade.
Airmen with the Maryland Air National Guard's 175th Wing Cyber Operations Group, based at Warfield Air National Guard Base, Middle River, Maryland, supported the Estonian Defense League's cyber defense unit. They advised and assisted with building greater operational awareness of cyber defense capabilities among the Estonian participants.
The Maryland Air Guard's 175th Security Forces Squadron also participated in the exercise at Amari Air Base, Estonia, and provided air base security support and observations within the Base Defense Operations Control center through the duration of the exercise. The unit's participation provided greater insight on processes and procedures used to protect mission-critical resources.
Those training exchanges are all part of the goals of the SPP.
"The SPP assures our allies, deters our enemies, provides access to critical regions, and forges long-lasting relationships around the globe," said U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, in a May 10 letter to the force.
Through the partnership with Estonia, the Maryland Guard has played a key role in promoting regional cooperation and stability.
"Through SPP, the Maryland Guard and Estonian Defenses strengthen our alliance and supports all other NATO allies and partners as well," said Army Maj. Gen. John L. Gronski, U.S. Army Europe's deputy commanding general for Army National Guard, during a visit to the exercise training areas May 11.
Gronski met with Maryland Guard intelligence and special operations Soldiers to address the importance of the exercise and how their participation fits within overall National Guard training opportunities throughout Europe.
"When the Maryland Guard comes here they also strengthen their own readiness, which helps them seamlessly deploy alongside Estonian [partners], contributing to the overall SPP," he said.