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Major General Herem: We have a Defence Force that can handle a war better than a parade

MG Martin Herem address on Estonian Defence Forces Anniversary reception.


I congratulate you on the 101st anniversary of the Estonian Defence Forces.

The regular army, created on 16 November 1918, did not take up an empty space. They were officers and soldiers with experience in the Imperial Russian Army. They had experience in organising national troops. There was the Estonian Defence League. As soon as we had to go to a real war, we already had allies. All this was undoubtedly an important basis to our own country. But there were citizens, too, with the will to protect a country that was not really there.

Although we had the opportunity to use better equipment and heavy weaponry more and more, in addition to utilising our own valour, wisdom and the generosity of our allies, our Defence Forces at that time are perhaps best characterised by a painting “Need, kes vabastasid isamaa” (“Those who liberated the Fatherland”) by an Estonian painter Maksolly. Slightly tired men of Estonia of various ages as well as nationalities, wearing different apparel. Students, workers, farmers, entrepreneurs – most were not professional soldiers, but ordinary men.

Truth be told, there were a few women alongside them too. Besides, without the women, there would have been no rear in the form of medicine or catering in this campaign. And probably all these men would not have been able to participate in this victorious war without the permission of the women.

Unfortunately, we failed to repeat it in the 1940s.

In 1991, though more peacefully, we were able to regain our independence. The Estonian Defence Forces were again established to protect Estonia. Once again, we could utilise the experience gained in the army of another country. Again, the Estonian Defence League was already established. Again, it was mostly made up from people from the field, factory or school.

Today, since the Restoration of Independence, we have more active servicemen than ever before. But our main strength still comes from the reserve forces.

In recent years, we have been testing the readiness, skills and knowledge of our Defence Forces, including reservists, to quickly show up on an unexpected order and perform as a unit. This year we did it basically simultaneously with two battalions. And while I am the first one to grimace, because we know how many things need to be done and can be done better…, then less than 40 hours after the decision of the Government to call in an infantry battalion, the unit had moved more than 100 kilometres from the formation location, and was ready for battle.

Those men from Maksolly’s painting. With the support of these women. This is the quality we can show on our 101st anniversary. Without being embarrassed. At the same time, I acknowledge that much remains to be done to ensure that all of our armed forces are able to demonstrate such a level during wartime. That is why we serve. The procurements in the coming years, as well relocation and developments in conscript service, must contribute to this.

Dear attendees.

Today, here with us are not only the citizens of the Republic of Estonia, active servicemen and reservists of the Defence Forces.

I would like to thank all allies and partners, some of whose representatives are here today. We have more and sturdier allies, than we had 100 years ago. The battle group in Tapa, Baltic air policing in Ämari, the staff officers in Tallinn, the lecturers in Tartu and special forces … somewhere in Estonia, have been proving this for years. Significant events have taken place over the past year, illustrating the international development of our national defence. At the beginning of the year, we established a joint division headquarters with the Danes and Latvians, which in a few years must become a real division, and can significantly improve our common defence capacity. However, during the summer and autumn, three crucial international sets of training exercises have been conducted in our region during which we practiced strengthening our defence capacity. In regard to these, the public has mostly measured the number of days and tanks. But a much more important achievement is an understanding between the forces – who should do what. These training exercises and the solid support will continue in the coming years.

For all this we have paid a heavy price. We have lost our servicemen in international military missions, but also during training in Estonia. Our service is connected to death. They have given everything.

We will remember you…

Despite the losses, we must rejoice and be proud of what we have achieved today. We have a Defence Force that can handle a war better than a parade. The intensity of international cooperation and the credibility of allies definitely does not allow to establish an irreversible diagnosis in regard to NATO.

I congratulate you once again on the anniversary of the Defence Forces, and thank you all who are painted on a canvas called: “Need, kes hoiavad Eesti vabana” (Those who keep Estonia independent).

Big praises!

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