Despite icy winds and low temperatures, spirits were high in Freedom Square where a military parade began convoying around noon, kicking off the 100th year anniversary of the Estonian statehood in Tallinn, Estonia, Feb. 24.
The military parade consisted of 1,100 participants and more than a hundred units of military equipment, but one piece of equipment stood out towards the end of the formation. The Patriot air defense missile system carefully weaved through the narrow cobblestone streets of Old Town with the crew members waving to the crowds of spectators, many waving Estonian flags.
Cpt. Thomas Harris, commander of Charlie Battery, 5th Battalion, 7th Air Defense Artillery, 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command said his team and he were excited to be able to participate in the Estonian celebration and proud to be a member of the only U.S. Patriot battalion stationed in all of United States European Command.
“The operational tempo is high in the European theater. We go all over the continent. Netherlands, Sweden, Romania and Poland. Before we came here, we were actually in the field two to three weeks training for gunnery. So these Soldiers came out of the field, after successfully accomplishing that mission, they jumped into this one and hit the ground running. They really knocked it out of the park,” Harris said.
According to Harris, this experience was valuable and beneficial as well for his team.
“They’ve been meeting with their Estonian counterparts, learning about their weapons systems, teaching each other and it’s been an excellent once in a lifetime opportunity for us.”
Col. David Shank, commander of the 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command said that it was important for Soldiers of the 10th AAMDC to participate and show a unified front with all the countries involved.
“This is a unified front as soldiers from 10th Army Air and Missile Defense Command execute the year of integration while supporting our Estonian allies,” Shank said. “The opportunity for our young soldiers to participate and showcase their incredible talents in an event of this magnitude is significant. It is vitally important to the alliance, and to our Estonian allies in support of their centennial celebration.”
Shank said his team is thankful to Estonia for inviting the 10th AAMDC to participate in their centennial celebration.
“One hundred years of independence. Our relationship with Estonia deepens in cooperation daily, having participated in the recent exercise Saber Guardian, Tobruq Legacy 17 and the upcoming Saber Strike 18. Congratulations to the people of Estonia and Happy Independence Day!”
The day prior, Harris and his team gave a Patriot System briefing to members of the Estonian Defense Forces at the Support Command Center in Tallinn. The Minister of Defense, Jüri Luik; Chief of Defense Gen. Riho Terras; and U.S. Ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., were among those who attended, along with Col. Shank and Command Sgt. Maj. Gary E. Plotnick, Command Sergeant Major of the 10th AAMDC. The briefing consisted of the capabilities and knowledge about the Patriot weapon system and how it fits into a layered ballistic missile defense, followed by a question and answer session.
The Estonian Minister of Defense, Jüri Luik, said that bringing a unit of the Patriot long-range missile defense system to Estonia is a symbolic step on the part of allies, and there are plans for joint training exercises between the partnering nations.
“The allies are with us, and what would demonstrate this better than bringing an impressive air defense system here for demonstration,” Luik said. “But it’s not about the parade alone. The officers that are with the Patriot system have held discussions also with our Air Force. The subject definitely is how to participate in training exercises in the future.”