When it comes to the phrase ‘protect this house,’ few do it better than the Lithuanian 21st Dragoon Battalion, a motorized infantry unit that had the rare pleasure of handing American soldiers their asses on a silver platter in a simulated ambush in the snowy forests of their home turf on Sunday.
The ambush was part of a larger exercise where the “Stallion” Troopers of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment played the bad guys of an invading army as a way to test the defenses of local troops, who have fewer heavy vehicles and fewer soldiers in general compared to the U.S. Apparently the Lithuanians passed with flying colors.
“The ambushes were on point. They were concealed well, we couldn’t see them even when we were right on top of them,” said Stallion infantryman Cpl. Joseph Salamon in a press release. “They did really well, they know their stuff.”
While the Lithuanians may have fewer tanks and troops, they know how to work with what they got, explained Capt. Evan Ringel, commander of 2-8 Cav’s Bravo Company. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in unconventional warfare tactics, where Dragoons fight in small groups using gear found in local hardware stores.
“This training is specialized to fight with techniques against tanks,” said Lt. Eimantas Maslauskas, of the Lithuanian Volunteer Forces, 3rd District, before the ambush went off.
Lithuania is far from the only country with which the U.S. military war games. For example, the U.S. Marine Corps likes to test its mettle against the British Royal Marines, and the U.S. Air Force regularly puts on simulated dogfights with other countries in exercises such as Red Flag and Cope North.
However, in recent years, the United States has doubled down on working with Baltic countries such as Lithuania, since the small republics lie in between regional rival Russia and the North Atlantic Ocean. Lithuania is buffered from Russia by the country Belarus, but that country is closely allied with Russia (at least for now).
“Since 2016, we convened the U.S.-Baltic Dialogue to broaden and deepen our range of security cooperation activities and address Baltic-wide security gaps,” the U.S. State Department said in a press release last month. The department noted that the Baltic states have bought about $504 million worth of military gear from the U.S. since 2015, and the U.S. has also sought to shore up those countries’ defenses with military financing, education and training.
“Thanks to continued strong Congressional support, such as the Baltic Security Initiative in the FY21 National Defense Appropriations Bill, DoD continues to invest in programs in the Baltics to deter Russian aggression, increase interoperability, and support modernization,” the State Department added.
Geopolitics and military financing is all well and good, but how did it go down in the knee-deep snow of the Kairai training area, just off the coast of the Baltic Sea? Quite well, in fact: Maslauskas and his team placed several improvised explosive devices and camouflaged soldiers touting grenade launchers at key points along a two-mile stretch of road running through a forest. The surprises were meant to disrupt or disable the movement of Bravo Company’s Bradley fighting vehicles and dismounted infantrymen, and it worked.
As the Stallions rolled down the road, one of their Bradleys took a critical hit from a bomb hidden under snow and tree branches. The only indicator of the trap was a thin strand of wire that blended in with the branches. Seconds later, as infantryman left the disabled Bradley, a second, smaller explosion kicked off an attack on the Americans’ flank, signaling that they were now in some serious shit.
“We definitely would have taken some casualties today,” Ringel said. “We may have them on sheer numbers, but their ability to halt our advance with their tactics is a force multiplier … They don’t hold anything back and train hard.”
For the Lithuanians, the scenario validated the effectiveness of that training. For the Americans, it gave them an inside look at the use of unconventional warfare to prepare them for future such ambushes. Maslauskas, the Lithuanian officer who helped plan the ambush, seemed to have a ‘bring it on’ kind of swagger afterward.
“We have been having fun, you see that we are smiling,” he said. “100% we would train again with U.S. forces.”
Featured Image: A Lithuanian Volunteer Force soldier provides perimeter security as his fellow team members set up an ambush Feb. 21, 2021, at the Kairai Training Area, Lithuania. Lithuanian 21st Dragoon Battalion and U.S. 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment conducted a combined training event to test the abilities of Lithuanian forces to halt or stop heavy weaponry 2-8 Cav. Reg. employs on the battlefield. (U.S. Army photo / Sgt. Alexandra Shea)