FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — Lithuanian diplomats and other dignitaries visited the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Sept. 15, 2013, as part of the partnership between Lithuania and the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“As, and on behalf of all Pennsylvanians, I am pleased to welcome you to the commonwealth and to honor you for your service,” read the proclamation from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, the honorable Vydas Gedvilas. “Please accept my best wishes for success in all your future endeavors. “
Lithuania and Pennsylvania have worked together for more than 20 years after their partnership was established April 27, 1993, under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program, said Capt. Teresa Ruotolo, State Partnership Program Director for the Pennsylvania National Guard. Since the partnership began, over 500 exchanges have taken place between the Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuania.
Speaker Gedvilas was accompanied on his visit to Harrisburg by Lithuanian Ambassador to the U.S. Zygimantas Pavilionis along with other key dignitaries involved with Lithuania’s political and congressional affairs.
“The Pennsylvania National Guard are wonderful reliable people,” said Pavilionis. “Every soldier that I’ve met in Lithuanian knows [the Pennsylvania National Guard]. They appreciate your experience and your partnership.”
Pavilionis also discussed the importance of those not only cross-training between the two countries, but the development and connection of those Lithuanians who immigrated to the United States.
“Lithuanian Americans have been here since the 19th century,” he said. “Some of them are even part of the National Guard and they have been telling stories and that is important; the moral, spiritual, and also militaristic link that we have.”
After visiting Harrisburg, the group ventured to the Pennsylvania National Guard’s headquarters at Fort Indiantown Gap for a presentation on the different components of the Pennsylvania National Guard and their diverse capabilities. The briefing was given by Pennsylvania National Guard officers Col. Marc Ferraro, chief of the joint staff, and Col. Barry Lowen, director of the air staff.
During the presentation, Pennsylvania adjutant general Maj. Gen. Wesley E. Craig mentioned the importance of training both active and reserve soldiers in preparation for national defense.
“The speaker and I have been having a discussion on the cost of defense,” said Craig. “Our country had a choice to put 21,000 more soldiers on full-time duty these past 12 years or use the National Guard when they needed us.”
“We are a tremendous bargain for national defense and this is something that your country can consider between the mix of forces,” said Craig.
Once the presentation was finished, Speaker Gedvilas presented Maj. Gen. Craig with an award for the work that he and the Pennsylvania National Guard have done to support Lithuania.
“I have the greatest respect for the National Guard,” he said. “[They are] ready to stand with us.”
Maj. Gen. Craig presented a Liberty Bell to Speaker Gedvilas, as a symbol of respect and liberty.
The day was not complete however as the Lithuanian dignitaries were then given a tour of Fort Indiantown Gap and the different types of training offered there that could be incorporated into their own forces. Different training opportunities like urban scenario training and weapon simulators were discussed and demonstrated.
During weapon simulation training, the group was able to learn the monetary value of using simulators to prepare soldiers for live-fire range qualifications and weapon familiarization.
“During your mission you fired over 600 rounds, “said Sgt. 1st Class Damon Hassinger, a simulators noncommissioned officer at Fort Indiantown Gap. “A single 5.56 round can cost about 60 cents. These simulators can save you a lot of money.”
Not only do simulators save on the cost of ammunition and renting out ranges, but they’re able to be controlled and measured, he said. Each scenario can be recorded and the playback can display where each simulated round went.
The simulators and tour of the base were the final leg of the day for the Lithuanian dignitaries, but Ambassador Pavilionis noted the need to continue such developments between Pennsylvania and his country.
“I think now we have to look to the future. We have been training together and working hard in Afghanistan and Iraq, but let’s see now what we can figure out in 2014. We are really looking forward to new forms of cooperation,” he said.