SAAREMAA ISLAND, Estonia – Thousands of people crowded the streets of Kuressaare, watching with excitement as soldiers marched through their hometown for the Victory Day parade here, June 23, 2022.
Victory Day is an Estonian national holiday commemorating their victory over Baltic-German forces at the Battle of Vonnu in 1919, marking a turning point in the Estonian War of Independence. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the day also celebrates all Estonian forces who fight to retain the country's independence.
Onlookers waved Estonian flags while soldiers from several allied nations passed.
"It is an amazing opportunity, and we are grateful to be able to be here today to celebrate Victory Day with the Estonians and our NATO allies," said Capt. Mack Azbell, commander of Ares Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment (1-66 AR), 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. "Us being here with our brothers and sisters in arms from other countries symbolizes our dedication and commitment to NATO, our partners, and increasing our interoperability and lethality across all domains. It was a pleasure to be here, and I thank the Estonians for the generous hospitality."
Soldiers from the 1-66 AR took part in the Victory Day parade alongside members of the Estonian Defense League (EDL) and other NATO allies. Troops from Denmark, Finland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the U.K., and the U.S. also took part in the parade on Kuressaare's main square. Additionally, there were members of the Police and Border Guard Board, Rescue Board, and the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization (Naiskodukaitse).
The location of the parade alternates each year between the 15 Estonian counties. This year was Saaremaa Island's turn, where organizations for both young and old, including Boy and Girl Scouts, marched in the parade next to the Estonian Defense Force and the EDL soldiers, members of the police, and multinational partners from allied nations.
The parade passed through the city square, where they met with Alar Karis, the president of Estonia. After passing the parade stand, the president and the EDL commander, Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi met with each formation to thank them for their service to the country. To end the parade, representatives from each province met the president to light a torch, symbolizing the continuing commitment to the country, as jets from the Estonian Air Force flew overhead.
"This means that we are not alone, which is the most important thing; we know that whatever happens, you have our back," said Piia Tamsalu, the public relations chief and a soldier for the Evacuation Group of the Women's Voluntary Defense Organization. "Strong allies not only come when there is a war or a conflict, they also show up to celebrate with us."