Rukla, Jonava district, Lithuania, 21 February 2017
It was on 16 February 1918 that Lithuania, previously occupied by Russia and, during the First World War, by the German Empire, declared its independence. On the eve of the anniversary, the Lithuanian Iron Wolf brigade held a parade to mark the occasion. A detachment of around 60 soldiers from the German-led enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Lithuania took part
They are no longer simply neighbours within Europe; since the end of January, they have been setting up to train in Lithuania alongside their Lithuanian comrades-in-arms. The celebrations are an ideal opportunity to get to know one another a little better.
A great honour
The parade begins with a speech by Lieutenant Akvile Ubikaite. A platoon leader within the brigade, she is proud to have been selected for this special event. “Our strength is our unity. Fight for freedom every single day,” she tells the soldiers of her own brigade and the rest of the enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Lithuania. Around 600 Lithuanians and 30 Americans have come on parade alongside the eFP Battlegroup soldiers. It is a great honour for all of them to stand side by side with their Lithuanian allies on this special day.
Festivities the night beforeA highly distinctive sound comes from an old canon put in place by a historical artillery society. It fires three shots to start the festivities, echoing loudly across the Lithuanian base. A Lithuanian music corps added to the event, providing not only the very formal music accompaniment typical of military events but also – to the surprise of many – a very lively concluding piece including choreography. Vygaudas Ušackas, the EU’s Ambassador to Russia, has also travelled here to take part. Lieutenant Ubikaite expresses the significance of the coming holiday for her country with the final words of her speech: “Let’s be proud to be Lithuanian
Curious neighbours at church
At midday on 16 February, the detachment from the Battlegroup have been invited to a Catholic Mass at the church in Jonava. Lithuanian, Belgian, Dutch, US and German soldiers stand next to large numbers of parishioners before everyone proceeds into the old church. Soon the little 18th‑century building is packed. Although most of the soldiers don’t understand much of the sermon, most of the service is similar to what happens in a German Catholic church. For about an hour, the congregation sings and prays amid wafts of incense – and the occasional grin reveals the interest that many of its members feel with regard to their new neighbours.
Side by side
Immediately afterwards, the detachment marched behind the blue lights of the police in front of them to the square facing the town hall, where the inhabitants have a special display planned. Together with the Lithuanian soldiers and the eFP Battlegroup detachment, they group themselves into the shape of the number 99 – which symbolises the anniversary. In a speech the people of Jonava had particularly requested, Major Ruud Lenoir of the Netherlands, deputy commander of the eFP Battlegroup in Lithuania, honours the achievement of freedom and underlined the close ties which connect the NATO soldiers with the Lithuanians: “We stand and work with you side by side. Particularly as soldiers, we take this honour and responsibility very seriously.”
All the participating soldiers are sure to retain special memories of the celebrations – not least as a successful start to the eFP Battlegroup’s community relations with its Lithuanian neighbours in Jonava.
This is the translation of an article by Torsten Stephan/ Heiner Bumüller published on www.bundeswehr.de