By 2nd Lt. Keenan Kunst, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published May 14, 2014
Two F-15C Eagles taxi down the flightline after returning from the 48th Fighter Wing’s participation in Baltic Air Policing May 1, 2014, at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. The U.S. Air Force’s 48th Air Expeditionary Group handed over the reins of NATO’s BAP mission to the air forces of Poland and the United Kingdom during a ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, April 30, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Trevor T. McBride)
ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England (AFNS) --
The 48th Air Expeditionary Group handed over the reins of NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission to the air forces of Poland and the United Kingdom during a ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania April 30.
During the ceremony, Lt. Col. Lendy Renegar, the 48th AEG commander, passed a symbolic key of the Baltic airspace to the Polish and United Kingdom Royal Air Force detachment commanders, representing the change of responsibility for the security of the Baltic States' air sovereignty to the two NATO fighter units.
"Our primary objective was to maintain the safety and security of Baltic airspace -- and we did that," Renegar said. "Despite rising tensions and ops tempo in the region, we professionally met every challenge, exceeded expectations and delivered air superiority to our Baltic allies. This was a total team effort, every Airman contributed and this resilient group responded without fail, 24/7."
The Polish and UK air forces will continue to police the airspace of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia using MiG-29 and Typhoon fighter jets. They will continue the 24/7 alert status and scramble at a moment's notice if there are any threats to the Baltic air space.
Beginning Jan. 1, the 48th AEG was responsible for the NATO mission, which protects Baltic air sovereignty and security, while providing for the integrity and stability of NATO's borders. The original group, composed of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and the 720th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron, consisted of 100 Airmen and four F-15C Eagle fighter aircraft.
The contingent was bolstered at the request of NATO's Baltic members March 6, This effort, launched in less than 20 hours, increased the 48th AEG's strength by six aircraft and nearly 60 Airmen, reinforcing the United States' commitment to NATO and its allies' security efforts.
During the four-month rotation, the U.S. group conducted more than 700 hours of training, flew 221 NATO missions and executed 22 real-world scrambles, perfectly meeting 100% of its NATO taskings.
While deployed to Lithuania, the Airmen of the 48th AEG did more than just protect their allies -- they also devoted time to giving back to the local Lithuanian community.
"In addition to completing the NATO mission, we also set out to leave a positive footprint and make friends," Renegar said. "One of the things that makes leaving Lithuania so hard is that we really feel like we became a part of this community. I only hope we gave them half of what they gave us."
Airmen from the 48th AEG spent time playing with children at local orphanages, bringing gifts and donations; they also raised more than $2,000 for a new washer and dryer for the Šiauliai City Baby Orphanage. Additionally, they volunteered to help local students with English and went out to local groups to speak about the mission and their life in the Air Force.
"There's no doubt that this is an important mission, and I'm proud of the impact we made," said 1st Lt. George Maxfield, the 720th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron commander,Our Airmen were always looking to reach out to the local community, and I hope our Lithuanian friends and the other Baltic States know that the United States Air Force is committed to their security, safety and well-being."