US, Estonia build partnership through Exercise Hedgehog

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Rusty Frank
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
As NATO partners, the U.S. and Estonia work together with allies to ensure the collective security of nearly a third of the planets population. As such U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft arrived at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, May 1, 2015, to participate in exercise Hedgehog.

Bringing together NATO partners, the weeklong exercise challenged the Estonian defence forces through lifelike scenarios.

"The main purpose of the exercise is to test Estonian land forces," said Col. Jaak Tarien, Estonian Air Force commander, who is the equivalent of the U.S. Air Force's Chief of Staff. "The air component provides realism to the combat, and our army will learn to operate together with allied air support. As Estonia is a very small country with just over 1 million people, we just don't have the resources to maintain our own combat air forces. That's why our air force focuses more on support roles, and the allies provide combat air power."

Exercise Hedgehog provides the backdrop of training to meet possible security challenges, but it also brings about the difficulties of speaking the same language when it comes to close air support.

"The key phrase here is integration of different nations, different assets," Tarien said. "The American A-10s, the Polish SU-22, the British Hawks, the several nations here performing NATO air policing ... together with the Estonian forces, it's been a great success story."

The exercise's name derives from the Estonian people and their national epic in which a hedgehog served as a main adviser to a hero, who later defeated an enemy and survived the final battle.

"He is a little but tough animal that you don't want to mess with," Tarien said.

Tarien added that every Estonian is part of the defense system, and it's this feeling of accomplishment that shows how committed the European partners are to ensure a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.

"It's exciting that they invited us to come join them in their major exercise," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ben Rudolphi, 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron director of operations.