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U.S. air contingent took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Belgian troops
On January 3 Belgium’s air contingent handed over NATO’s mission of ensuring security in the airspace of the Baltic States to air personnel of the United States of America operating four F-15 C Eagle fighter-jets at a formal changeover ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base of the Lithuanian Air Force.
“I wish to thank the Belgian troops for the participation in this mission. We appreciate your involvement and your commitment to this mission and your solidarity it has demonstrated with the Baltic nations celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Baltic Air Policing mission and NATO membership,” Minister J.Olekas said. He also rejoiced over the fact that U.S. air personnel would be patrolling the Baltic skies at the time of the anniversary.
Minister J.Olekas expressed a hope that the NATO mission in the Baltic States will remain a model of collective thinking and acting as well as of Smart Defence.
Prior to the changeover ceremony Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas met with General Frank Gorenc, Commander, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Commander Allied Air Command headquartered at Ramstein Air Base (Germany). The officials discussed issues of the Baltic Air Policing mission, plans of Baltic Region Training Events (BRTE), and other relevant matters.
At the meeting the Minister expressed his delight about the long-term character of the Baltic Air Policing mission – it will be running for a decade this year – and thanked U.S. General F. Gorenc for the support and significant contribution his country was making to the mission of importance for the Baltic States. The U.S. Air Forces in Europe have deployed troops to carry out the Baltic Air Policing tasks for the fourth time.
“I am very happy about the solidarity of the allies contributing to the Baltic air policing as well as about the increasing number of participants of the mission – Italy and Hungary have also decided to assist in ensuring the protection of the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian airspace,” J.Olekas said. According to the Minister, the Baltic States were making efforts to increase the Host Nation Support to incoming air contingents on a regular basis.
At the meeting the Lithuanian Minister also evaluated positively the BRTEs held on an annual basis and addressed the possibilities to expand the scope of the training events while drawing more extensively the infrastructure available in the Baltic States.
The U.S. rotation the majority of which has deployed from its home base at Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Lakenheath, United Kingdom, is over 150-strong, it include pilots, engineers, medical personnel, support groups, communications personnel, etc. The U.S. air personnel will be carrying out the mission with four F-15 C Eagle fighter-jets.
Other participants of the rotation ceremony were Major General Edvardas Mažeikis, Commander of the Lithuanian Air Force, Lieutenant General Claude Van De Voorde, Commander of the Belgian Air Component, Mr Robert Silberstein, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States in Lithuania, representatives of Latvia and Estonia, Šiauliai municipality, and other guests.
NATO took over the duty of ensuring security of the Baltic airspace after Lithuania's, Latvia's and Estonia's accession to NATO in March 2004. 14 allies have already taken charge of the Baltic air policing tasks since then. The U.S. Air Contingent in 2014 will be the 34th rotation to take charge of the security of the Baltic airspace since launching the mission in 2004.
Belgium, Denmark, the Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Spain, U.S.A., Poland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, France, Romania, Turkey and Germany have already been safeguarding the Baltic airspace apart from Denmark and France since launching the Baltic Air Policing mission.
Photos courtesy of: 1,5, 6 - Antanas Gedrimas (LITHAF); 2, 3, 4, 7 - Gintaras Šiuparys (the Lietuvos rytas)