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Face of Defense: Soldier Returns Home to Lithuania for Saber Strike Exercise

KAZLU RUDA, Lithuania --

Army Spc. Lukas Natkevicius, a cavalry scout and Lithuanian native assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany, returned to his birth country during Exercise Saber Strike 18.

Saber Strike is an annual NATO military training exercise that tests capabilities and enhances relationships among 19 participating countries. This year’s exercise was held June 3-15 at training areas in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

“It feels good to be back in Lithuania, and this experience has been amazing. I recognize so many places and I feel comfortable here,” Natkevicius said.

Natkevicius was born and raised in Marijampole, a one-hour drive just outside of the training area at Kazlu Ruda.

In 2004, when Natkevicius was 13, his father entered and won the U.S. permanent resident card immigrant diversity program lottery. This program allows those who enter and are selected from qualifying countries to receive a United States permanent resident card.

U.S.-Bound

“At the time, out of three-million people, my dad was extremely lucky,” Natkevicius explained. “We were extremely thankful and excited to be able to go to the United States.”

Natkevicius and his family moved to Florida and eventually relocated to New Jersey.

“Florida was great and I enjoyed surfing, but New Jersey was cold and it wasn’t much fun,” Natkevicius said with a laugh.

He finished high school in New Jersey and upon graduation returned to Florida.

“I enjoyed the area much better and I wanted to make it on my own,” Natkevicius explained. “I intended to go to college as I was saving money while working retail.”

Then, one of Natkevicius’ closest friends who was in the Army, had recommended the military to him.

“She was a mechanic and received her education while serving and now works at Google,” Natkevicius said. “I was interested in that opportunity to better myself and that is what the Army provided.”

Joining the U.S. Army

In January 2015, Natkevicius joined the Army as a cavalry scout and has been serving with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany for almost two years.

“The Army has helped me with everything I was struggling with and put me back on my feet,” Natkevicius said.

Natkevicius recalled his first visit back to Marijampole once he had the opportunity to take a weekend pass.

“At the time, I hadn’t seen my mom or other family in nearly three years,” Natkevicius said. “I surprised my mom and called as I was driving from Germany to Lithuania to let her know I was coming home and she was so excited. Eventually, so many members of my family had called me once they found out, I had to pull over to talk to all of them.”

With only a 13-hour drive between his home and duty station, Natkevicius goes to Lithuania to see his family every chance he gets.

“Everything has changed for me since I joined the Army,” he said. “It’s been great.”

Natkevicius also serves as his unit’s armorer – he’s responsible for the inventory and maintenance of individual-level weapons systems.

‘I Love Being a Scout’

“I love being a scout and I am enjoying being the armorer so much; I’ve considered re-classing to a small-arms repairer,” Natkevicius said.

Army Capt. Jared Moore, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, said that it has been a privilege working with Natkevicius.

“He is a very smart, intellectual soldier and having him in our arms room was a great choice for our organization,” Moore said. “Conducting Saber Strike in Lithuania is not only a great opportunity for him, but it’s also a special opportunity for us to share, experience and witness his journey.”

Natkevicius, Moore and other soldiers of HHT are responsible for moving supplies during Saber Strike 18.

Natkevicius is grateful to be back in Lithuania but is focused on the mission.

“I feel the same as everyone else; I do my job and I am happy to do it,” he said. “It’s great to train here and partner with Lithuanian soldiers and help strengthen our countries’ relationships.”