Lithuanian Uses U.S. As Model for Military




VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Where the U.S. military's influence has taken hold, the impact can be pervasive.


On the grassy hills outside a noncommissioned officer corps academy in Kaunas, Lithuania - a campus modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps academy - Lithuanian army Major Kestutis Kurselis recently watched as a platoon of recruits moved toward a mock enemy camp.


"The camouflage, that's American. The way they wear their gear, that's American," whispered Kurselis, commander of the academy. "All these maneuvers and patrol techniques we learned from the Americans. For two years we've concentrated on small-unit tactics."


What Kurselis is doing with his young noncommissioned officers is precisely what a team of high-level Pentagon officials recommended for Lithuania, which had few machine guns and not a single tank or combat aircraft when it regained its independence at the end of the Cold War.


During an assessment this year of the Lithuanian army, U.S. Army Major General Henry Kievenaar Jr. sent an American team to every active air base and naval facility, and on inspections of companies and platoons. The team's findings have become "our road map," said Jonas Kronkaitis, Lithuania's deputy defense minister.


"General Kievenaar's focus was on quality of life, we agree. He said we ought to close two air bases, we agree," said Kronkaitis, who grew up in the United States and once worked at Virginia-based Atlantic Research Corp. "He said, 'Don't enlarge your navy,' we agreed with that. He said, 'Don't pay for jet fighters,' and we agreed with that."


The Lithuanian army has mimicked other aspects of the U.S. national security apparatus.


It has a National Security Council-style policy body, a Joint Chiefs of Staff command structure, and a U.S.-style national guard. Its Training and Doctrine Command is based on the U.S. Army command of the same name, a coastal defense battalion follows the Marine Corps structure, and its "Jaeger Battalion" is inspired by U.S. Special Forces.


Lithuania hopes to be admitted soon to NATO while trying to preserve its good relations with Russia, whose heavily militarized enclave abuts Lithuania's southwestern border. To show its commitment, it has increased defense spending by 50 percent in the last year, to $153 million.


A seven-member Joint Contact Team Program team was on the ground in Vilnius, the capital, four months before the last Russian troops left in 1993. Today, four U.S. officers work out of the stone National Guard headquarters. Inside a small suite of offices are computers, a bookcase of U.S. Army field manuals, maps and texts on U.S. military procedures.


"Initially we didn't know how Western armies were built, structured and worked. We started to go deeper into philosophy," said Kurselis, a graduate of the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College.


"We are learning the way of living, the way of thinking, the way free societies live."