Strengthening Ties: Maryland National Guard and Estonia's Historic Joint Training at Air Defender 2023

Strengthening Ties: Maryland National Guard and Estonia's Historic Joint Training at Air Defender 2023
Photo: Air National Guard

Over a hundred Airmen from the 175th Wing, Maryland Air National Guard, have successfully participated in the agile combat employment movement in Estonia. The strategic exercises form part of the multinational NATO exercise, Air Defender 2023, marking a historic moment for the long-standing partnership between Maryland and Estonia.

Air Defender 2023, led by Germany, saw the deployment of 235 aircraft from 25 nations, with over 10,000 personnel participating from across the European theatre between June 12th and 23rd. The 104th Fighter Squadron pilots from Maryland supported Estonian and other NATO joint terminal attack controllers (JTAC) in several training sorties in Maryland A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft.

These missions, carried out between June 6th and 16th, included close-air support operations and live-munition drops at water and air-to-ground ranges. In total, Maryland pilots completed more than 56 training sorties, fired over 5,000 30-millimeter rounds, and deployed over 60 munitions in live-fire exercises.

"Our main objective for this exercise was to integrate with as many of our state partners as possible," stated U.S. Air Force Col. Paul Kanning, the 175th Operations Group commander. He highlighted that such cooperative training between the Maryland Air National Guard and the Estonian defense force makes both parties more formidable.

These joint exercises hold particular significance as they mark the 30th anniversary of the partnership between Maryland and Estonia under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. This unique initiative pairs states and countries worldwide, fostering military-to-military and interagency cooperation through bilateral training and engagements.

Kanning expressed pride in how the partnership with Estonia has evolved over the past three decades. He lauded the dedication of the Estonians in creating a superior training environment. At the same time, he acknowledged the integral role Maryland played in providing the Estonian JTACs with aircraft and ordnance crucial to their training requirements.

For Estonian air force 1st Lt. Tanel Landsmann, JTAC, the joint training represents more than just a learning opportunity. "It's a sign of strength and a sign of union," he said. "That's what NATO is for." This sentiment is indicative of the profound respect and collaboration between the Maryland National Guard and the Estonian defense force, further strengthening the enduring bond between the two.