RUKLA, Lithuania — Cranes hoisted five U.S. Army tanks into Lithuania on March 15, marking the first time the two nations will train with tanks since 1990, when the country became an independent state.
After a more than 5,000-mile journey, the 60-ton Abrams M1A2 and other vehicles of the 2-7 Battalion, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, based on Fort Stewart, arrived at the railhead at Rukla, Lithuania, to begin training and support for Operation Atlantic Resolve.
“It’s humbling to be in someone else’s country, being afforded the opportunity to work with allied NATO nations hand in hand in an operation that is this size — across these countries and working together,” said Capt. James Lewis, assistant operations officer (S3) for the 2-7 Infantry Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division.
The 1st Armored Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division is deploying 900 soldiers and about 70 armored fighting vehicles to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland this month.
During the next several months, the unit will conduct multinational training with NATO allies in the region to demonstrate the continued U.S. commitment to security in Eastern Europe following the Russian incursion into Ukrainian territory in 2014.
Multinational training is scheduled to the first U.S. tank firing in Lithuania in early April and force-on-force interoperability training through April, Lewis said.
“It is an amazing feeling to know we have the opportunity to come here and conduct this type of training, and to have been selected is exciting,” he said. “We are really looking forward to partaking in the training with the Lithuanians and other nations across the Baltic states.”
Lithuanian National Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told reporters that the U.S. military being in the country sends “a clear message” to anyone who might try to interfere with the region’s peace and stability.
Among the assets deployed to Lithuania are about 10 track vehicles and wheeled vehicles, including five Abrams M1A2 tanks.
Those vehicles originated from Fort Benning before they were loaded onto a ship in Charleston, South Carolina, sent to Latvia, then transported by train to Lithuania.
Upon arrival, towering 10-ton cranes based in Lithuania arrived at the Rukla railhead to lift the tanks and trucks into place.
“The vehicles have had a long journey,” said 1st Lt. John Meckley, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon, C Company, 2-7 Infantry Battalion. “(The Lithuanians) set everything up for us very nicely — all these assets are great. Today is a testimony about how well (Lithuanian forces) coordinate things for us.”
The U.S. soldiers on the ground represent veterans who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq, and young service members testing their abilities abroad for the first time.
Tanker (19K) Pfc. Jordan Mudge, 20, is among those in another country for the first time in uniform.
Mudge says he is looking forward to getting to demonstrate his job to the other NATO units during the upcoming training. He holds the position of loader inside the tank placing the 120 mm rounds into the primary weapon.
“It is intense — especially being inside the turret,” he said. “I’m looking forward to training with NATO and do what we have to do out here — showing them what we do, seeing what they do and hopefully become better soldiers because of it.”