October 16, 2023
Aitäh, Minister Pevkur.
I recall six months ago in March, when you arrived here in Vǒru, the snow was deep, and the temperatures 14F high.
I am honored to join today’s ceremony, which recognizes your service and contributions to our collective defense as NATO allies.
Some of you may know that I come from a military family. My father, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served for a full 30 years, including as Captain of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. It was based in Charleston, South Carolina, where your battalion’s equipment will be shipped on the way home to Kentucky.
I thus understand the pressures and challenges that come with long deployments, and time away from family.
And I hold all who serve in uniform in defense of our national interests in the highest regard.
Today we recognize the 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment, part of one of the most storied Divisions in the U.S. armed forces – the 101st Airborne. Thank you all for your service. I’ve got your unit coin and ball cap you presented me upon arrival in March on my desk at the Embassy in Tallinn.
We are here as a result of President Biden’s commitment at the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid to increase the rotational presence of U.S. troops along the Alliance’s eastern flank, from Estonia in the north to Romania and Bulgaria in the south.
We sent a clear message and fulfilled our pledge through action, starting last December with the arrival of your predecessor unit.
And our work with Estonia and other Allies to strengthen defense and deterrence on the eastern flank of NATO will only continue as we implement the regional defense plans approved three months ago in Vilnius.
Estonia is an Ally that also prefers action to words, and has taken practical steps in response to Russia’s unprovoked aggression in Ukraine – donating weapons systems and humanitarian aid to Ukraine while also investing in new capabilities to bolster NATO’s defense and deterrence.
I would also like to recognize the historical significance behind today’s occasion.
I understand this deployment is the 506th’s first return to Europe since World War II. Your motto, “Currahee,” means “Stands Alone” in Cherokee, a Native American language.
In Kyiv, I served under Ambassador Bill Taylor, who fought in the Vietnam War as a rifle company commander in the 506th.
While Red Currahee, the 1st Battalion, is standing separate from the rest of the Bastogne brigade serving in Romania, you are standing with Estonian and NATO Allies here in Võru.
And Võru is home to the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion of the Estonian Army’s 2nd Brigade, a unit whose history dates more than 100 years back to the Estonian War of Independence.
Having one of the most storied U.S. units at the home base of one of Estonia’s is an excellent example of our close ties.
I remember meeting Gunfighter Company, the first to arrive back in March when there was still snow on the ground.
Since then, we’ve had four other companies arrive.
You participated in Spring Storm in Kadrina and Tapa. You also marched in Estonia’s Victory Day parade in Viljandi and conducted air assault operations, medical interoperability training, and aero-medevac exercises.
You made strong connections with the local community, including the Ridali Airfield, which I visited today, which supported day and night training with helicopters (including the first ever HIMARS rocket ammunition sling load in the Baltic region).
And I know you have also had the chance to experience Estonia’s culture, the beauty of its nature, and the hospitality of the Estonian people.
Whether it was riding scooters down to the beach at Lake Tamula to play volleyball, or taking buses to explore Tartu or Tallinn, I know you have seen the best of what Estonia has to offer.
As you prepare to depart, I trust that the Kaitsel Defender Medals you receive today from Minister Pevkur, General Palm, and other Estonians will serve as a reminder of the vital contributions you all made to NATO’s defense together with our Estonian Allies.
So, let me close by again thanking our Estonian Allies and hosts. I join you in congratulating the 506th. Thank you all for your service in defense of our countries’ national interests, collective security, and the values that we share as NATO allies and partners. We are truly #StrongerTogether. Aitäh.
George P. Kent
US Ambassador to Estonia