Why two CPR News reporters are in Europe with the Colorado National Guard

Mark Cancian, a retired navy colonel and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also pointed out: “This was not done in response to the invasion of Ukraine.”

Yet this annual exercise has taken on added importance – for journalists like me, and readers like you, and perhaps also the people of Estonia – because of what is happening in Ukraine.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
The old town section of Tallinn, Estonia, May 20, 2022. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is home to around half a million people and dates back to 1050, although archaeologists have found evidence of inhabitants in the area dating back 5,000 years.

In a very broad sense, it’s related because drills like this have been part of the US effort to support allies and to deter Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014. Many leaders of this party of the world have been worried about an aggressive Russia for years. After all, like many Eastern and Central European countries, these small Baltic states were occupied by the Soviet Union for much of the 20th century.

Defender focuses on readiness and interoperability. As Cancian explained – making sure all the different elements of NATO can all work together.

“Getting 30 different command structures, 30 different communication systems, 30 different sets of doctrine and all of them working together takes effort – continuous effort.”

And it’s also an opportunity to see the Guard in action abroad. Many Coloradans have seen firsthand the work of the Guard in recent years, from helping with wildfires and floods to supporting part of the medical response in the early days of the pandemic. But they also have a federal role, as a reserve component of the US armed forces.

220520-ESTONIA-TALLINHart Van Denburg/CPR News
People gather to watch the sun set over the Baltic Sea from a viewpoint in the Old Town of Tallin, Estonia, May 20, 29022.

During the four days that I will be here with CPR photographer Hart Van Denburg, we will have the opportunity to watch the exercises up close, talk with the troops involved, and hear from U.S. military personalities about the strategic importance of this international relationship.

It’s a connection that countries in this part of Europe are increasingly thinking about, especially NATO member states that share a border with Russia, such as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

And Estonians are very interested in what is happening in Ukraine.