MIDDLE RIVER, Md. --
Over the first two weeks in December, A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots from the 104th Fighter Squadron, Maryland Air National Guard conducted close air support training with joint terminal attack controllers from their state partner country of Estonia. The training event, which took place in New Jersey and Maryland, was led by an Oklahoma Air National Guard JTAC instructor who trained the two Estonian Defense Force members from the ground.
After a two-week quarantine period for the Estonians due to COVID-19 safety precautions, the training began at Warren Grove Gunnery Range in Warren Grove, New Jersey. Week one of training focused on currency training and evaluations with live ordnance. This was followed by a second week focused on urban training in Vienna, Maryland.
This training event is a continuation of the five years of regular training between OKANG JTACs and their international counterparts within the Estonian Defence Force.
“It’s awesome getting the opportunity to continue our relationship with the Estonians,” said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Timothy Davis, a standards and evaluations program manager assigned to the 146th Air Support Operations Squadron, OKANG. “They have a very keen focus on air threats that we, as American JTACs, have not had to focus on during the global war on terror. So it helps us reset our focus.”
Estonia joined NATO in 2004 to continue participating in international security cooperation and help safeguard their borders. However, their military partnership with the Maryland National Guard dates back to 1993. For over 27 years, the MDNG and Estonia continue to enhance their partnership through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.
“Maintaining relations with our brothers and sisters from 104th on- and off-duty [makes our partnership successful],” said an Estonian tactical air control party lead for the EDF training, who asked not to be identified for operational security concerns. “This trip was able to take place in that matter mainly because we have mutual trust and respect for each other and the will to train and fight together.”
Since 2013, Maryland’s A-10s regularly travels every couple of years to participate in national exercise activities or U.S. European Command theater-wide exercises with state partners. The Estonian Air Force does not have an aircraft designed for close air support, so they rely on their partners to conduct live control training with their JTACs.
“Training with JTACs is key to maximizing firepower and minimizing friendly casualties,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Daniel Griffin, an A-10 pilot assigned to the 104th Fighter Squadron, MDANG. “The JTAC is the link between the ground commander and aircraft providing close air support to destroy, disrupt, suppress, fix, harass, neutralize, or delay enemy ground forces.”
The integration and interoperability with partners will lead to success on the battlefield but only if they train regularly, according to Griffin. This is something he has seen firsthand while previously serving as the bilateral affairs officer in the Office of Defense Cooperation in Tallinn, Estonia.
“Estonia is especially important to the MDNG because they are one of our two state partners,” said Griffin. “This relationship has been enduring since the early 90s and has allowed us to build trust and long-lasting relationships leveraging Estonian and Maryland’s unique capabilities to benefit Maryland, the United States military, and Estonia equally.
In addition to partnering with Estonia, the MDNG has partnered with Bosnia-Herzegovina since 2003. The State Partnership Program has been successfully building relationships for over 25 years and now includes 78 partnerships with 84 nations around the globe.