FROM: U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff greeted soldiers and U.S. personnel during a visit to the headquarters of the Estonian 1st Brigade in Tapa, about 60 miles east of Estonia’s capital city of Tallinn.
"I was especially proud to see those young men and women I met out in Tapa wearing the uniform of our country with the flag on their right shoulder," said U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who retires at the end of this month.
Dempsey said there's no "greater symbol of commitment" than the presence of U.S. troops, America's sons and daughters, on the ground in the region.
The U.S. soldiers are with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, based in Vicenza, Italy, and are on a six-month deployment to the Baltic nation to train alongside Estonian forces as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The operation is a demonstration of continued U.S. commitment to the collective security of NATO and to enduring peace and stability in the region in light of Russia's illegal actions in Ukraine.. About 5,000 U.S. troops have rotated through Estonia since April 2014, with other rotations taking place in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria.
In a talk with the U.S. troops, the chairman thanked them for their service and their commitment to the mission and peace and security in the region.
"The United States in particular, but also several other of our NATO allies, responded quickly and effectively to create a new baseline of activity in Estonia and some of the other nations in the Baltics and in Eastern Europe," he said.
U.S. Army Pfc. Bradley Porter, who was manning a gun on a Humvee during Dempsey's visit, said he welcomed the joint training because it allows for the two nations to learn from each other.
"We get a lot of valuable feedback on the way we handle different situations," Porter said. "It's kind of nice to see the way they do things and then we can compare and change things up and make it better."
Sending U.S. troops to Estonia is a "strong gesture" in reassuring the people of the small Baltic nation, said Estonian Land Forces 1st Sgt. Pirger Laur, whose face was painted in camouflage and was manning a jeep disguised in leafy greens.
"One key factor I think [the training] brings here, if you do it on your own, sometimes you go in the wrong path," Laur said. "But if you exchange information, it improves the training."
Dempsey said he and his host nation partners, including Estonia, are assessing what worked and what needs improvement in the operation and looking at long-term strategy for the mission.
After his visit with the troops, Dempsey returned to Tallinn to meet with Estonian President, Toomas Hendrik Iles. He also held a press conference at the Tallinn airport with his counterpart in the Estonian defense forces before departing for Washington and bringing an end the weeklong tour that also took him to Germany and Turkey to close out his final foreign voyage as chairman.