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Ceremony caps off Baltic region exercise Saber Strike

Estonian soldiers present the colors during the closing ceremony for Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Base, Estonia, June 21, 2016. U.S. forces in Europe participated in Saber Strike 16; a long-standing, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative-training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010.  This year’s exercise focused on promoting interoperability with allies and regional partners. The United States has enduring interests in supporting peace and prosperity in Europe and bolstering the strength and vitality of NATO, which is critical to global security. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

Estonian soldiers present the colors during the closing ceremony for Saber Strike 16 at Tapa Training Base, Estonia, June 21, 2016. U.S. forces in Europe participated in Saber Strike 16, a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010. This year’s exercise focused on promoting interoperability with allies and regional partners. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

An A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 107 th Fighter Squadron, flies over Adazi Military Training Base, Latvia, June 13, 2016.  U.S. forces and NATO partners are in Europe participating in Saber Strike 16; a long-standing, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative-training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010.  The U.S. presence in Europe and the relationships built over the past 70 years provide the U.S. strategic access critical to meet our NATO commitment to respond to threats against our allies and partners. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

An A-10C Thunderbolt II from the 107th Fighter Squadron flies over Adazi Military Training Base, Latvia, June 13, 2016. U.S. forces and NATO partners were in Europe participating in Saber Strike 16, a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010. The U.S. presence in Europe and the relationships built over the past 70 years provide the U.S. strategic access critical to meet NATO’s commitment to respond to threats against its allies and partners. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Asselin, 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight chief, unloads equipment from an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia June 11, 2016.  U.S. armed forces and Latvian airmen will participate in Saber Strike 16; a long-standing, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative-training exercise taking place throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Chris Asselin, a 127th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron flight chief, unloads equipment from an A-10C Thunderbolt II at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 11, 2016. U.S. armed forces and Latvian airmen participated in Saber Strike 16, a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise that took place throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

A crew chief guides an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot into parking position at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia June 11, 2016.  Members of the 107th Fighter Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan join other U.S. armed forces and Latvian airmen to participate in Saber Strike 16; a long-standing, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative-training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010. This year’s exercise will focus on promoting interoperability with allies and regional partners.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

A crew chief guides an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot into a parking position at Lielvarde Air Base, Latvia, June 11, 2016. Members of the 107th Fighter Squadron from Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, joined other U.S. armed forces and Latvian airmen to participate in Saber Strike 16, a U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Army Europe-led cooperative training exercise, which has been conducted annually since 2010. This year’s exercise focused on promoting interoperability with allies and regional partners. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nicole Keim)

TAPA TRAINING BASE, Estonia (AFNS) -- More than 200 NATO service members gathered June 21 at Tapa Training Base to close out Saber Strike 16, a multinational theater security cooperation exercise.

The exercise, which began June 12, was held in multiple locations throughout Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It facilitated cooperation among NATO allies and improved joint operational capability across a range of missions to prepare the 13 participating nations to support multinational contingency operations around the world.

Participating nations included Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

During the ceremony, leaders spoke about the efforts put forth by all who participated and thanked one another for the unified partnership that made the exercise a success.

“It is great to see all of you service members from so many different nations,” said Taavi Roivas, the Estonian prime minister. “It is also great to see that all of our nations are working together as one and that Saber Strike 16 was a great success.”

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Blake Ortner, the 29th Infantry Division commander and the exercise’s co-director, shared his thoughts on the events.

The most important things that are built during these exercises are the trusted relationships, Ortner said. “You can’t schedule, plan or order that. Those trusted relationships are what make us truly strong as an alliance and also as a bilateral team with whatever nation we are working with.”

Saber Strike also featured testing of U.S. air and naval deployment of forces and equipment and the integration of U.S. close air support with allied and partner nation ground forces.

“The most impressive part of the exercise was the integration of the B-52 (Stratofortress) strategic bomber in a close air support role as well as the A-10 (Thunderbolt IIs) that were used in (field training exercises and) live fires,” Ortner said. “For the first time in 32 years, the A-10s did an austere landing along a highway here in Estonia.”

The exercise was considered successful because of the hard work of partnered nations that sometimes endured obstacles to accomplish the mission.

“Shared sacrifice has a benefit all of its own,” Ortner said. “When you have (service members) out there living together, sweating, stressed out, getting rained on and living through those conditions, real unity and trust are built.”