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Oct 12 2023

10,000 reservists hone their skills during Estonia's biggest military training

TALLINN, Estonia – Nearly 10,000 reservists took part in the Estonian Defence League exercise Parseltongue (Ussisõnad). From August 28 until October 8, they honed their combat skills in a variety of defensive scenarios. To date, Parseltongue is the biggest exercise focused on the training of Estonia's reserve force.

They are all volunteers, all 10 thousand of them, and they are willing to defend not just their homeland but their towns, streets, houses and farms. Say hello to the new recruits, training hard to join Estonia’s remarkable army of volunteers. In the process, they are doubling the size of Estonia’s territorial defence forces to 20 thousand troops.

“These are active reservists, mostly in their 30s and 40s, so they have experience,” explains Major General Riho Ühtegi, Commander of the Estonian Defence League (EDL), as he watches the recruits go through their paces.

“This is the territorial defence concept,” he says. “We look at Ukraine. We want to avoid the situation where the enemy has time to build up defensive lines while our Allies get here. We will give him no peace.”

During exercise Parseltongue (Ussisõnad), up to 10,000 reserve soldiers test themselves in a variety of defensive scenarios © Estonian Defence Forces

Taking place across Estonia, Ussisõnad – Parseltongue – is the largest EDF and EDL exercise for reservists in Estonian history. The reservists are trained by experienced instructors from the territorial defence districts of the Defence League, as well as from the Division’s 1st and 2nd Infantry brigades, the Estonian Military Academy, the Special Operations Command,  and also by instructors from United Kingdom, United States and France.

From learning to light fuses to setting up roadblocks, target practice and military first aid, the volunteer soldiers need to be ready for call-up at any time. In one sobering exercise, they learn to place a tourniquet on their own leg while waiting for their comrades to suppress enemy fire.

“Our commander’s intent is to raise more units, train them to be ready for both conventional and hybrid war – even before any troops cross the border,” says Meelis Kütt, chief of operations. EDL doesn’t just cooperate with the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) but also the Police and Border Guards whose job includes to maintain the integrity of Estonia’s borders. Joint exercises have involved, for example, riot control, evacuation of civilians and setting up road barriers.

New EDL recruits practice setting up a barbed-wire fence © Estonian Defence Forces
Major General Riho Ühtegi, Commander Estonian Defence League © Estonian Defence Forces

At the Rutja training filed, the new recruits practice setting up barbed wire fences, formidable concrete block barriers and anti-tank mines, permitted by the Ottawa convention that bans andi-personnel mines. At the end of the training, they will be invited to join the EDL.

Similar training takes place in all four terrritorial defence regions  Northeast, North, South and West. Allied troops in Estonia, from the United Kingdom, France and United States, take part in various exercises as in an ongoing effort to ensure interoperability of the forces defending Estonia.

Once the exercises are over, Estonia’s territorial defence forces will have been doubled in size bringing the country’s combat-ready forces to 36 thousand men and women. This, along with the constant strengthening of Allied troops dedicated to Estonia’s defence, poses a powerful deterrent to any designs on this vital part of NATO’s border with Russia.

Story by Multinational Corps Northeast Public Affairs Office, courtesy of Thorir Gudmundsson, HQ NATO's enhanced Forward Presence in Tallinn 

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