Building international friendships
Commentary by: 1st Lt Allegra Boutch
Dated: June 19, 2017
PABRADE, Lithuania — What started as a mission to provide Public Affairs support to an international exercise turned into a journey building friendships with partner militaries and an experience that would last a lifetime.
We left Texas on June 4, 2017; eight Texas Army National Guard soldiers from the 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, stationed in Austin, Texas and traveled to the Baltics to support a training exercise that spanned through four countries and brought together 11,000 soldiers from 20 nations.
Our mission? To provide Public Affairs support to the exercise in Pabrade and Vilnuis, Lithuania, June 5-19, 2017.
Saber Strike 17, an exercise designed to promote regional stability and security while strengthening partner capabilities and fostering trust, is the sixth iteration of the exercise, but the first, in the series, that Texas Guardsmen have provided public affairs support for.
The exercise series facilitates cooperation between the U.S., Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and other Allied and partnered nations to improve joint operational capacity in a variety of capabilities.
While on the ground, we provided photo, video and print journalism coverage for training and field operations.
“I think the stories we put out are key to capturing what our multinational partnerships are all about,” said Sgt. Mark Otte, one of our newest soldiers to the unit. “We are sharing soldier stories for families back home and providing transparency. Public support is key, and I think our role will ultimately have a hand in the strength of next year’s exercise.”
Working in the multi-national environment gave us an opportunity to both work alongside and talk to leaders from partner nations about our joint mission.
“NATO’s mission is not a standalone mission,” said Col. Jakob Larsen, commander of the Lithuanian NATO Force Integration Units. “We are not only working hand-in-hand with the Americans for Saber Strike but also with the host nation [Lithuania]. I think it is important that you are transparent and predictable so that your neighbors will not be concerned about what you do.”
During the 13 days spent in the Baltic state, our team published seven print stories, eight videos and over 150 photos shared by the Armed Forces Network, the National Guard Bureau and other publishing agencies.
The challenge of coming to an exercise where we’re covering operations for 20 participating nations across four different countries was absolutely logistical.
The benefit of bringing an MPAD to Saber Strike, however, wasn’t just that we are able to accomplish our mission with limited resources and information, but as we build our network, we were able to contribute to the multinational partnerships with every interaction and every interview we had.
While in the region we also partnered with Lithuanian and Croatian public affairs officers to collaborate, share information and learn what each of us could do to improve our own public affairs practices.
My hope is through the images we took our soldiers will never forget the friendships built here, and the world will see the strength of our convictions.