News: Paratroopers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade return home
Story by Sgt. Jason Lay
RUKLA, Lithuania – Paratroopers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade departed Lithuania June 24 after spending the last two months here training with NATO allied forces.
The 173rd came to Lithuania to participate in combined training exercises with forces from Lithuania, Denmark and Poland in order to sustain interoperability with NATO allies and demonstrate commitment to the alliance.
Shortly after arrival, the “Sky Soldiers” of the 173rd partnered with their Lithuanian hosts from the Iron Wolf Mechanized Infantry Brigade for Exercise Black Arrow in May. Both forces worked together in performing airborne operations to include an airfield seizure, air defense artillery training, demolition and special weapons training.
Each force also trained together on each other’s weaponry, tactical vehicles and in-the-field operations and learned from each other’s tactics.
“I really enjoyed training with soldiers from different countries and getting to see the weapons our allies use,” said Spc. Mark Drake, infantryman assigned to 1st Platoon, Company B. “The training was similar to what we do back in Italy, only on a larger scale and with soldiers from other countries, so it was pretty cool.”
Paratroopers from the 173rd and Lithuania also competed in a squad competition June 5 where select members participated in a grueling one-half mile of woodland area, mud and obstacles to earn the honor of wearing the Iron Wolf patch.
“I really enjoyed the top squad competition,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Hughes, a squad leader for 1st Platoon, Company B. “Our guys did very well in the competition and the overall course. It says a lot about our training.”
The 173rd also participated in Saber Strike 2014, a multifaceted training exercise involving approximately 4,500 personnel from 10 countries. The exercise was hosted by the Lithuanian Land Forces and the Iron Wolf Brigade and was the first time Lithuania had hosted an exercise of such scale. The U.S. and other NATO allied forces participated in multinational training exercise and conducted combined airborne operations and force-on-force tactical maneuvers.
During Saber Strike 2014, U.S. and Lithuanian Soldiers teamed up with Danish forces from 2nd Danish Brigade against opposing forces they had the opportunity to play an offensive and defensive role. This exercise enabled each force to demonstrate their ability to work together to accomplish a variety of mission sets.
Allied forces also participated in an airborne exercise where paratroopers from the U.S., Denmark and Lithuania traveled to Siauliai, Lithuania, to perform an airborne jump into Rukla. This gave Danish paratroopers an opportunity to jump with both forces and earn American and Lithuanian jump wings.
The final combined training exercise for the 173rd and Lithuanian forces took place in Pabrade, where mortarmen and fire-support personnel conducted a live-fire exercise, firing Javelin anti-tank missiles and 60 mm mortar rounds.
Capt. Nicholas Salimbene, commander of Company B, along with his 1st Sgt. David Dzwik, also, awarded eight paratroopers with a coin from the Honorable John H. McHugh, Secretary of the Army, and 46 paratroopers with the Army Achievement Medal for their efforts throughout their time in Lithuania.
“I appreciate everyone’s hard work,” said Salimbene as he spoke with the paratroopers one last time before packing up the rest of their gear to return home. “I would coin everyone if I could.”
The 173rd is to return to their home station in Vicenza, Italy, while Troop A, 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, from Grafenwohr, Germany, is scheduled to arrive in Rukla as their replacement. The brigade will maintain troops in the region for training on a rotational basis to continue this unique opportunity.