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A Tale of Two Graduations

Aussies Leave, Lithuanians Stay

I don't think that anyone is surprised that, after the change in leadership in the Australian government, our dear friends the Aussies would be leaving Iraq.

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Australian Soldiers roll up the Australian flag for the last time in Iraq during the transfer of authority ceremony June 1. The Australian Army relinquished command of their area of operations to the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. Location: COB Adder, IQ.  Photographer: Spc. Jamie Avila, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division Public Affairs.


The story of the Lithuanians who volunteered to extend in Iraq is after the Jump:

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Lithuanian 1st Lt. Gediminas Alisauskas, of Lithuanian Contingent 10 stands guard as U.S. Soldiers and members of PRT Wasit tour a vo-tech facility in al-Kut, Iraq, May 12.  Photo courtesy of MND-C.


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Lithuanian Sgt. 1st Class Donatas Krivickas, of LITCON 10, maintains security in a market in the town of Dujayli as U.S.civil affairs Soldiers conduct an assessment May 20. (U.S. Army photo/Sgt. Daniel T. West)

Lithuanians Choose to Stay the Course
By Sgt. Daniel T. West
214th Fires Brigade, Public Affairs Office
 
FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA, Iraq – With only a week remaining in their six-month tour in Iraq, soldiers from Lithuanian Contingent 10, Iron Wolf Brigade, faced a difficult choice.
 
Two options remained following the news that the Lithuanian government had voted to extend the unit’s tour for two more months: the soldiers could volunteer for the extension or continue their redeployment.
 
“Since they were already packed and I knew how difficult it would be, I chose to ask for volunteers to stay,” said Lt. Gen. Valdas Tutkus, Lithuanian Chief of Defense.
 
Twenty-nine of the 40 soldiers in the platoon chose to continue the mission.
 
“Without them, we would be stuck,” said Capt. Caroline Pogge, of Company B, 411th Civil Affairs Battalion. “They are the primary personnel security detachment for civil affairs and Provincial Reconstruction Team Wasit. Without them, we are immobile.”
 
Selecting to continue their deployment showed a lot about their character, according to Pogge.
 
“To a lot of people, six weeks (the extension was later changed to eight weeks) isn’t much,” said Pogge, a native of Danbury, Conn. “But over here, it’s a long time.”
 
Word that the Lithuanians had selected to stay was a welcome surprise, according to Col. Peter Baker, commander of the 214th Fires Brigade.
 
“We are so dependent on them for movement; we didn’t know how we would move the teams that are so vital to the reconstruction effort,” Baker said.
 
The Soldiers appreciated the fact that the choice was left to them.
 
“It is important to serve our country, but in some moments it is more important to take care of home and family,” said 1st Lt Gediminas Alisauskas, a platoon commander. “I’m glad to have the chance to choose. All of us had plans for when we got back – most changed them, some couldn’t.”
 
Being so close to returning home made the choice difficult.
 
“I had one week left and it felt like I was already home,” Cpl. Rimvydas Stasaitis said. “I had plans, but changed them when I decided to stay. It’s my duty and responsibility. The mission is not finished when our time is finished. If we wanted to finish it, we had to stay.”
 
For some, the decision to stay was because of the team, a reluctance to leave while comrades stayed. The platoon bonded over the time here, and for some, the decision was whether to leave one family for another.
 
“We came as one platoon and have friends here,” said Capt. Karolis Morkunas, the platoon’s senior national representative. “We want to stay with our friends.”
 
Tutkus emphasized Lithuania’s continued commitment to supporting the U.S.
 
We came in with the U.S. during the war and will stay in support until the end,” he said. “It’s important to be a credible member of NATO and the Coalition. In order to demonstrate our credibility as a country, we have to share the risk.”
 
As the soldiers of the platoon performed their duties over the past six months, they impacted on all who interacted with them, from their Chief of Defense to the U.S. Soldiers who worked with them from day to day.
 
“I’m proud of the soldiers here,” Tutkus said. “From the first part, every time I visit soldiers and their commanders, I hear only the best things. There is a light in their eyes. They are motivated, professional, well-trained and competent.”
 
The civil affairs team members they escorted echoed the sentiments.
 
“They are phenomenal, professional soldiers,” Pogge said. “They know their job and do it extremely well. Their competence and confidence is obvious as we travel with them.”
 
The Soldiers who stayed held no grudges against those who chose to leave.
 
“Some soldiers had losses, maybe their wife was sick and they had small children, so they had to go,” Morkunas said. “They didn’t want to go… Even those who stayed had compelling reasons to go. The section leader (Master Sgt. Andrius Samusevas) has a two-month-old daughter that he has never seen, I have a two-and-a-half month-old daughter that I’ve never seen, but we chose to stay, to see it through.”
 
The soldiers were optimistic about their final two months, but did not plan to make things permanent.
 
“It’s ok to stay for two months, but not one day more,” Stasaitis said. “I am getting married in two months and one day, and I can’t reschedule that.”

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