This week you may have seen in the news that two F-35 stealth fighters, the US Air Force’s newest and most advanced jets, made an appearance in Estonia for the first time. This gesture of solidarity comes just after the arrival of US soldiers and NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), a robust, multinational, combat-ready force, in the Baltic States. The movement of US soldiers and the eFP into Estonia, at the request of the Estonian government, is intended to enhance Euro-Atlantic security, reassure America’s allies, and deter aggression from regional adversaries. Most Estonians see the arrival of the US military as a good thing. However, presence of American and NATO troops has not been viewed as positively by some of Estonia’s ethnic Russian communities. I was just in Estonia to work with the US Embassy, Estonian defense forces, and a US Army Civil Affairs team to positively engage one ethnic Russian community in Sillamäe. Community engagement is the key to building better relationships and demonstrating a commitment to all Estonians, regardless of ethnicity. View the project here. Through conversations with the mayor of Sillamäe, the US Army Civil Affairs team and US Embassy personnel in Estonia, we determined that donating outdoor gym equipment for the city’s park and sponsoring a 5K race on the same day as the ribbon cutting would be the best way to positively engage the predominately Russian speaking community. A lot of work went in to planning and coordinating the installation of the equipment and preparing for the race over the last year. It was all worth it though, because the turnout for the event was incredible! Over 150 residents preregistered for the race and soldiers from the US, Estonia, UK and France ran in the race alongside participants from northeastern Estonia. The race also fell on Estonian Veterans Day, providing an opportunity to recognize the men and women who had served their country. This great event, made possible through cooperation with the US Embassy, US Army Civil Affairs team and city of Sillamäe, honored Estonian veterans and brought together the ethnic Russian community, and soldiers from the US, Estonia, France and UK. The 200+ participants ran to the sounds of the US Army Band Europe and after completing the race were able to enjoy fresh fruit and bottled water that SoA provided. Events like this one are invaluable community engagement opportunities for Estonian residents and US and NATO soldiers to interact and build personal relationships. None of this would have been possible without the hard work of so many people. Thank you to everyone who contributed, including our generous donors! All the best, Chris Clary Project Manager, Europe
Chris served as a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant in Afghanistan where he mentored Afghan Commandos from 2010-2011. He volunteered to return in 2012 to work with Afghan Local Police and Afghan National Police at a Village Stability site in central Afghanistan, and also took a leave of absence from SoA to deploy once more to Afghanistan with his Special Forces team in 2015.