Lt. Col. Skip Pribyl (right), commander of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, is at Lithuania Air Force Air Base, Lithuania, to accept the "key" to the Baltic air policing mission Sept. 1, 2010, from Lt. Col. Robert Kozak, commander of the departing Polish air force detachment. Passing the key symbolizes the change of command from one unit to the next. Airmen in the 493rd EFS will support this NATO mission for four months. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Stagner)
A flight of U.S. Air Force F-15 Eagles and Polish MiG-29 Fulcrums fly over Lithuania Air Force Air Base Sept, 1, 2010. The flight was symbolic of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, assuming command of the Baltic air policing mission from the Polish air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Stagner)
Airmen from the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, raise the American flag at Lithuania Air Force Air Base, Lithuania, Sept. 1, 2010, as Polish air force airmen retire their flag during the assumption of command ceremony. The U.S. Airmen were assuming command of the four-month Baltic air policing mission from the Polish air force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Christopher Stagner)
by Tech. Sgt. Chris Stagner
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
9/1/2010 - LITHUANIA AIR FORCE AIR BASE, Lithuania (AFNS) -- The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, assumed command of the NATO Baltic air policing mission Sept. 1 from the Polish air force at Lithuania Air Force Air Base.
For the next four months, the squadron, comprising approximately 125 people, is responsible for ensuring the air sovereignty of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
This is the third time since 2004 the U.S. Air Force has accomplished this mission and the second time the 493rd EFS has had responsibility.
"The (493rd has) already established a legacy of professionalism in the Baltics, and we look forward to building upon it," said Anne Derse, U.S. ambassador to Lithuania. "As all warriors know, the surest way to maintain peace is to exercise constant vigilance and rigorously prepare to meet all potential threats. The Baltic air policing mission is just one of many facets of NATO's vigilance and preparation. This is a mission we take seriously and take on with pride."
The mission turnover from Poland to America is an example of the strong relationships America has with its NATO allies, said Maj. Gen. Mark Zamzow, 3rd Air Force vice commander.
"Our relationship with the Baltic nations has grown remarkably since the inception of the Air policing mission," he said.
The general went on to explain that a 2008 endeavor designed to provide complex air policing training has since evolved with a broader scope emphasizing a wide spectrum of air operations over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Airmen of the 493rd EFS are prepared to do their part to ensure that relationship continues to grow as they accomplish their mission, a squadron official said.
"The men and women of the 493rd EFS are proud to be here ... protecting the skies over the Baltic states," said Lt. Col. Skip Pribyl, 493rd EFS commander. "This mission falls in line with what we do -- establish air superiority -- and we're excited to do it."
Republic of Latvia Chief of Defence Maj. Gen. Raimonds Graube emphasized the importance of the NATO relationship that makes the air policing mission possible.
"It's been more than six years since we started the Baltic air policing mission, and it's an example of our solidarity (as allied partners)," he said. "It shows we are ready to work together to support our allies."
Republic of Lithuania Chief of Defence Maj. Gen. Arvydas Pocius agreed.
"As members of NATO, we work shoulder to shoulder to support Afghanistan and other operations," General Pocius said. "It's a strong alliance."
He also thanked U.S. Airmen for adopting the air policing mission and promised to do his best to accommodate American traditions.
"I know you're here during a difficult time," he said. "You're here through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. I promise you, we will find turkeys."