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Pennsylvania National Guard, Lithuanian Celebrate 30-year Partnership

  • Published
  • By Wayne Hall,
  • Joint Force Headquarters - Pennsylvania National Guard

HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Pennsylvania National Guard celebrated its 30-year military-to-military partnership with the Lithuanian Armed Forces as part of the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program during a ceremony at the Commonwealth Keystone Building June 6.

Established on April 27, 1993, the Pennsylvania-Lithuania partnership is one of the original partnerships in the SPP. What began as simple senior leader visits and basic-level familiarization exchanges has grown into cooperative participation in large-scale exercises, including co-deployments to Afghanistan and meaningful subject matter exchanges that contribute to strategic-level security initiatives focused on national defense.

“The great friendship between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Republic of Lithuania fostered by the establishment of our military-to-military partnership has grown tremendously,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Schindler, Pennsylvania’s adjutant general. “Moving forward, we will work to strengthen our relationship by exploring additional civilian-to-civilian cooperation.”

Over the 30-year partnership, the Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuanian Armed Forces have conducted more than 800 security cooperation engagements, 18 co-deployments to Afghanistan, and platoon and company-level exchanges.

“Since the beginning, since the independence, I would say, you provide very valuable training to us,” said Lt. Gen. Valdemaras Rupšys, chief of defense of the Republic of Lithuania. “You stood with us shoulder-to-shoulder everywhere during the exercises, during the training, also during the deployment to Afghanistan.”

The foundation of military cooperation could be an example for other Lithuanian institutions to follow, Rupšys said. “I think that it’s [just] the beginning of our cooperation; this 30 years is only the beginning.”

The “Keystone State” was primarily built by a melting pot of immigrants who helped shape the nation. Among those who settled here were thousands of Lithuanians.

“While our capitals may be separated by more than 4,300 miles, over the past 30 years, the Pennsylvania National Guard has developed a very strong relationship with your military, and we’ve expanded upon that partnership to benefit our people, said Gov. Josh Shapiro. “Most folks don’t realize how connected your country and our commonwealth are.”

Shapiro said the ties had opened economic opportunities for people in both places. The two sides have shared knowledge about organic farming, hemp, animal and plant disease and climate-friendly agriculture practices.

“When I visit Lithuanian communities, especially here in Pennsylvania, I always see Pennsylvania National Guard is present,” said Audra Plepytė, Lithuanian ambassador to the United States and Mexico.

Plepytė said the cooperation between the Pennsylvania National Guard and Lithuania is increasingly important in defending values.

“The ideas of freedom which were born in this state, in Philadelphia, reached all countries across the world, and especially Lithuania,” Plepytė said. “That encouraged our people then in the 18th century to write the second constitution.”

The SPP is a Department of Defense security cooperation program managed and administered by the chief of the National Guard Bureau. It grew out of DOD efforts to assist the militaries of formerly occupied territories of the Soviet Union transition into a Western-model military structure following the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The initial partner nations were Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

What started with just three partner nations in 1993 has grown into 84 official partnerships across 100 partner nations and 54 National Guard states, territories and the District of Columbia.

The strength of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s partnership became even more clear when the National Guard Bureau recognized Pennsylvania and Lithuania as the 2022 Partnership of the Year on April 22 this year, just days before the official 30th anniversary.