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Estonian soldiers integrate with 2/8 Marines

US Marine Corps News

10/7/2009 By Sgt. Scott Whittington , Regimental Combat Team 3

Many cultures throughout the world sustained themselves because they had men and women who had a warrior spirit and a willingness to fight for a common cause.

A company of soldiers from the Estonian Army demonstrated this characteristic last year while supporting 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment in Now Zad, Afghanistan. Now they have another opportunity to continue NATO’s mission here with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in southern Helmand province.

“I would jump at the chance to serve with any Estonian unit in the future, and I appreciate the almost six months that I did have to learn and serve with them,” wrote Company F commanding officer Capt. Ross Schellhaas, in a 2/7 after-action report. The battalion, stationed at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., finished their most recent Afghanistan deployment in November.

Estonian soldiers had similar thoughts of admiration for their brothers in arms. “The same basic soldier drills and common thinking on the battlefield made the cooperation very smooth,” said Estonian Capt. Villiko Nurmoja, liaison officer stationed at Forward Operating Base Delhi. “Working together with U.S. Marines is a privilege which some units never experience.”

Estonia, located in northeast Europe on Russia’s western border, has a population of 1.4 million people and is no stranger to conflict, transitioning from German control during WWII to a Soviet government for 50 years. In 1991, they became an independent nation, joined the United Nations and have been developing economically ever since. They have participated in NATO’s missions in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

“They share the same risks, same harsh living conditions, and they have absolutely no issues with either of those,” said Maj. Mike D. Broyan, Regimental Combat Team 3’s future operations officer and Estonian integration planner. 2/8 and their Estonian attachment fall under RCT-3’s command in Helmand. “That’s what they want – to be in the trenches with us.”

The Estonian soldiers moved into 2/8’s battle space at the end of September and took over Patrol Bases Shamshad and Masood, previously occupied by elements from 2/8’s Company F. They share these bases with elements of the Afghan National Army and will continue the battalion’s counterinsurgency operations until 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment takes over later this year.

“They’re coming at the exact right time to set the conditions for the RIP (relief in place) and framework,” said Lt. Col. Christian G. Cabaniss, 2/8 battalion commander. “It will be hard for the insurgents to react to it.”

To prepare for the deployment, the Estonian Army participated in training similar to their American counterparts, like reaction drills and company-sized exercise simulations. The exercises were enhanced to reflect lessons learned from testimonials of real combat scenarios in Afghanistan.

“The situation in Helmand changes so often that units have to be very flexible to take over new TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) from previous units or coalition partners,” said Nurmoja. “Flexibility and open thinking save lives.”

Broyan boasted about the Estonians’ professionalism and said there is no question about their capabilities.

“They’re good soldiers with good attitudes,” Cabaniss agreed from his headquarters at FOB Delhi. “I expect very good things from them.”

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