Enhanced Forward Presence: Chief of Staff on a working visit to Lithuania

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Vilnius, Lithuania, 3 February 2017

Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Jörg Vollmer arrived in Vilnius for a working visit on 1 February. He used his two-day visit to conduct talks with the leaders of Lithuania’s land forces, focusing on NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP). In Rukla, the Lieutenant-General and his delegation were brought up to date by the advance party of the multinational eFP Battlegroup.

Enhanced Forward Presence began in recent days with the transportation of the Battlegroups’ first vehicles and equipments to the Baltic States and Poland. The NATO countries are providing troops on a rotational basis, each contingent remaining present for six months at a time. Germany is leading the multinational Battlegroup in Lithuania.

Diplomatic start

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Commander Thomas Hacken met the Chief of Staff and his delegation at Vilnius airport. Hacken is the defence attaché and head of the military attaché’s staff at the German Embassy in the Latvian capital, Riga. He is also responsible for Lithuania and accompanied the Chief of Staff on every stage of his visit.

The delegation’s first appointment in the Lithuanian capital took them onto German soil, as Ambassador Jutta Schmitz had invited them to the German diplomatic mission for an exchange of information and views. In her briefing, Ambassador Schmitz explained the political, economic and social situation in Lithuania. “You can expect NATO soldiers to be very welcome here,” she said.

Visiting the Commander of the Lithuanian Land Forces

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Private talks between Lieutenant-General Vollmer and Brigadier-General Valdemaras Rupšys, Commander of the Lithuanian Land Forces, were followed by a briefing on the integration of Lithuania’s Iron Wolf brigade into the NATO Command Structure. The Lithuanian General then gave a presentation on the current state of preparations for the arrival of the eFP Battlegroup in Rukla.

Afterwards, the Chief of Staff and his Lithuanian counterpart signed a declaration of intent on continuing close cooperation between their two countries’ land forces.

“Our priority in Lithuania is our mission under enhanced Forward Presence. In addition to the established components of the eFP Battlegroup, we are keeping units on hand in Germany which can be deployed temporarily to provide support during exercises, as required. Moreover, we are able and prepared to send essential reinforcements to Lithuania if developments occur which may entail a crisis. You can rely on that,” said Lieutenant-General Vollmer.

The evening of the first day was spent in the same company. The German Ambassador hosted a small reception at the ambassadorial residence for the German, Lithuanian and other international guests. Lithuania’s Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis was also in attendance.

Progress in Rukla

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The second day of the visit focused on viewing the infrastructure currently being put in place for the German-led multinational eFP Battlegroup. The base here at Rukla, around 100 kilometres north-west of the capital, is also home to the Iron Wolf mechanised infantry brigade. Its Commander, Colonel Mindaugas Steponavičius, welcomed the Chief of Staff and gave the German visitors a short presentation outlining the brigade’s structure and the focuses occupying his “Iron Wolves” in 2017. Thereafter, several members of the brigade held a weapons and equipment display to present their vehicles and principal weapons systems.

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The visitors were then passed on to Lieutenant-Colonel Christoph Huber, the Commander of the eFP Battlegroup in Lithuania. German, Belgian, Dutch and Norwegian soldiers will be under his leadership in Rukla until the summer. Huber led the German delegation around the various construction sites on the base and briefed the Chief of Staff on the progress that had been made in comparison to his previous visit in November 2016. When it came to the details, he called on the support of Commander Christian Becker from the Düsseldorf Centre of Building-Management Expertise, which is affiliated to the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Infrastructure, Environmental Protection and Services. “We’re well on target here in Rukla,” said Becker.

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Logistics and supplies for the eFP Battlegroup are being provided by the Belgian army. Captain Jelle N., Commander of the Belgian contingent and head of the support company, gave the visitors a tour of his area and presented his major equipment. “It goes without saying for us that we will be standing by around the clock to support the combat troops. That’s our job,” he maintained.

Chief of Staff with German advance party

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In the barracks, Captain Stephan D., headquarters platoon leader of the eFP Battlegroup, gave an orientation lecture about the area for Lieutenant-General Vollmer. He described various buildings and part of the area that are already or soon will be available for the Battlegroup’s use.

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Ensuring the soldiers have the best possible accommodation is a particular priority for Lieutenant-General Vollmer. “After all, our men and women are going to live here for six months. They need to be provided with decent accommodation. The accommodation here is looking good. A lot of progress has been made on that since my last visit in November 2016,” he said, during a tour of the bedrooms and social areas. Afterwards, Lieutenant-General Jörg Vollmer met the soldiers of the German advance party for a discussion, during which the Chief of Staff made it clear that he expected the soldiers, alongside their duties and training, to use their free time to get to know the country and its people.

Office call and tour of Vilnius

The return to Vilnius brought a meeting with Lithuania’s highest-ranking soldier, Chief of Defence Lieutenant-General Jonas Vytautas Žukas. Lieutenant-General Vollmer paid him an office call to discuss various topics in private.

The working visit concluded with a tour of Vilnius old town in the late afternoon. Brigadier-General Rupšys’ aide, Captain Kazimiras Bogdanas, guided the German visitors around the highways and byways, explaining historical sights along the way.

As Commander of the Lithuanian Land Forces, Brigadier-General Rupšys hosted a dinner to round off the visit. Both he and Lieutenant-General Vollmer took the opportunity to express their satisfaction with the two sides’ good teamwork. Vollmer thanked his hosts for the friendly and professional way the visit had been run as well as for the positive cooperation. “With enhanced Forward Presence, the NATO countries are demonstrating their joint determination to stand up for one another. That is what we, with our partners, are doing here in your country – in Lithuania,” the Chief of Staff said.

This is a translation of an article by Bernd Schwendel published on www.bundeswehr.de