U.S. Airmen sustain peacetime NATO mission

SIAULIAI AIR BASE, Lithuania -- The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron completed its first week of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission Sept. 8.

Within two hours of taking the lead from the Polish Air Force, the unit successfully intercepted and interrogated two aircraft that NATO control and reporting centers identified as Russian Federation military aircraft. Throughout the week the unit also conducted 18 training sorties to improve their ability to protect the Baltic skies.

The U.S. presence for the current BAP rotation comes at the request of its Baltic Allies and reflects NATO's commitment to the security of its member nations. As a long-standing peacetime task, air policing is designed to preserve the integrity of Allies' airspace, while enhancing professional relationships and improving coordination between nations.

"It's an honor and a privilege for us to be here executing the Baltic Air Policing mission," said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Clint Guenther, 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron detachment commander. “The big picture around this mission is that we’re ensuring our strategic partnerships and that we’re protecting the sovereign skies over the Baltic States.”

The 493rd EFS will continue to safeguard the Baltic region for the rest of 2017, maintaining a constant vigil over the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

“NATO stands with its Baltic Allies in maintaining a Europe that is safe, secure and prosperous,” Guenther said. “It’s vital that we work together, since no nation can confront today’s challenges alone.”

A hand-over take-over ceremony was held Aug. 30, which marked the beginning of the 493rd EFS’ support.

"I would like to thank the government of Lithuania, its great defense force and its great air force for its hospitality," said U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, during the event. "We thank you so much for how much you value peace and prosperity."

17 NATO countries have shared the air policing mission in the Baltic region since operations began in April 2004.