Chairman Presents Legion of Merit to Lithuanian Defense Chief

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff awarded the Legion of Merit to Lithuanian armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Jonas Vytautas Zukas at a ceremony here today.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford hosted the general and his staff. The award recognized Zukas for his staunch support for the U.S.-Lithuanian alliance.

Since Zukas took over as his country’s chief of defense, the alliance between the two countries has blossomed helping to cement the bilateral and NATO cooperation among the countries.

Zukas “was instrumental in aligning U.S. and Lithuanian efforts to deter Russian aggression as well as preparing for the defense of Lithuania and the Baltic region,” according to the award citation.

U.S.-Lithuanian Exercises

Under the general’s watch, American personnel conducted regular exercises with Lithuanian service members, including Sabre Strike and BaltOps 2018. Zukas also oversaw the successful deployment and redeployment of U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors.

All this activity went a long way to reassuring Lithuanians of America’s strong support in the face of Russian adventurism, defense officials said.

The Lithuanian armed forces have roughly 15,000 active personnel, supported by reservists. American forces work closely with Lithuanian service members in Afghanistan and Lithuanian troops have deployed to international missions in Kosovo, Mali, Iraq and Somalia.

Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1990, when the country became the first to break away from the communist state. Lithuania became a full NATO member in 2004 and is spending 2.06 percent of its gross domestic product on defense.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)