PABRADĖ, Lithuania - More than 10 Soldiers with 1st battalion, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division spent the day with orphans at the Švenčionėliai Social Services Center in Švenčionėliai, Lithuania, Dec. 20, 2019.
The Švenčionėliai Orphanage started in 1999 and in 2014 it became a structural unit of Švenčionėliai Social Services Center. The social center's goal is to provide targeted social, pedagogical, educational and psychological assistance to at risk children without parental care, in order to improve their quality of life and social integration in society.
The social services center provides a home currently to 20 children ranging in the age of seven to 15 years of age.
"The kids were informed before that the Soldiers would be here and they have were looking forward to this day and getting to do things together with the Soldiers," said Miroslav Lazdinis, the director of the social services center. "The kids were especially excited about it being U.S. Soldiers coming to visit. This visit gives the kids friends who are older and an experience they normally wouldn't get, an experience they can go to school and tell other students about."
Diplomats from the U.S. Embassy and the Soldiers shared American Christmas traditions and customs from their home states with the children. The children and Soldiers then teamed up outside to decorate a evergreen tree in front of the social services center with decorations that the Soldiers brought with them for the occasion.
"My favorite part of the day was the kids, I love kids and it was great to just hang out with them," said Cpl. Kaleasha Pullicar, of Lawton, Oklahoma, with 1-9CAV. "We just got to know the kids even with the language barrier, which we got through by using our phones and the translator that was here with us."
Once the tree was completely decorated the Soldiers and children headed inside to share hot chocolate and Christmas goodies. Before heading back outside to play sports with the children, the Soldiers also handed out Christmas gifts to each child.
"I'm really excited to be out here. I love learning about their culture and language," said Pullicar. "I really love their language it's very pretty. We've gotten to see how friendly the people are and see the different ways that they interact with one another. It's been very interesting and I'm just very happy to be here and a part of this."
The 1-9CAV is out of Fort Hood, Texas, and is currently on rotation in support of Atlantic Resolve, based out of Pabradė, Lithuania. The Headhunter Battalion has participated in multiple community events (NATO Day, dinner with local citizens, visiting local schools to talk to students and participation in the Armed Forces Day parade) and multinational training, to include tank gunnery with German and Norwegian service members since being in Lithuania. These events and training exercises allow the U.S., their NATO partners and the Lithuanian forces to strengthen their relationships with each other and the local communities.
"We hope to continue with visits like this in the future," said Lazdinis. "These relationships are important to have between the community and the U.S. Army. These relations and community activities allow the community to see what the U.S. Army is doing here and feel comfortable with their presence while getting to know them."