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Local woman helps Lithuania's developing military

November 09, 1997

November 10 1997

Local woman helps Lithuania's developing military

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

It felt kind of strange sharing military strategy with former adversaries.

But that aspect of the mission also made it more exciting, said U.S. Army Maj. Laura L. Marfut of Hagerstown, one of a two-officer team sent to Lithuania in August to help its developing military.

"During the Cold War, they were on the other side," said Marfut, 38, a tactical intelligence officer. "It's odd. And it's interesting to hear what they were taught about us by the Soviet Army."

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The 1977 Williamsport High School graduate went to the former Soviet state - now a "friend" of the United States - as part of the U.S. Army's Joint Contact Team Program.

The program, aimed at fostering stability in former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, provides military liaison teams to 16 countries, including Romania, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, Marfut said.

Each of those countries has a full-time team assigned to work closely with its U.S. ambassador and coordinate assistance in military and non-military areas by traveling teams with the necessary expertise, she said.

Topics include disaster relief, training management, business development, state and local government administration and tactical operations, Marfut said.

Marfut was living in Heidelberg, Germany, when she got involved in the program through her assignment with the 7th Army Reserve Command, which supports the U.S. Army Europe's stability mission in Central and Eastern Europe.

However, she and husband, Army Chief Warrant Officer Ed Marfut, a helicopter pilot based at Fort Belvoir, Va., moved to Hagerstown with their two sons a month before she was to leave for her first assignment, the Lithuanian mission.

The boys, Michael, 10, and Bret, 8, weren't happy she was going, Marfut said.

Still, she wasn't about to pass up the opportunity, as a major, to share her tactical intelligence expertise with influential Lithuanian military officers, she said.

The importance of the mission was enticing but also a little daunting, Marfut said.

"Everybody who's a member of any of these teams takes it very seriously. It's because we realize that the information we give them might lead to them adopting some of our methods," she said.

Being assigned to one of the Baltic states was particularly interesting because they're building from the ground up, Marfut said.

"Unlike Warsaw Pact countries like Poland and Hungary that were able to retain separate diplomatic and military structures, their military doctrine and structure are being built from scratch, basically," she said. "Everything is new down to the restructuring of their government."

Marfut had visited former communist countries on pleasure trips during the four years she and her family lived in Germany.

The fact that Lithuania had been incorporated into the former Soviet Union made it a lot different, she found.

"Lithuania was just incredible because in Poland and (the Czech Republic), we couldn't quite see the signs of Soviet domination that we could see in Lithuania," Marfut said.

Lithuanians are trying to wipe away those signs, she said, noting a warehouse in the city filled with felled statues of Lenin and Stalin and projects to restore churches that were shut down or used for other purposes during the Soviet years.

Yet they linger, said Marfut, recalling a bridge in the capital city, Vilnius, that features statues of model Soviet citizens - the farmer, the factory worker, the academic and the soldier - at its four corners.

Marfut and a fellow reservist, Lt. Col. Jim Brown, were sent to Lithuania for a week to share their expertise in military staff operations and interaction with 15 Lithuanian military officers, she said.

Presentations and discussions, done through an interpreter, covered things like how to write orders for battle plans and what a command post looks like at different levels, she said.

The Lithuanian officers would then take the ideas and propose applications considering their own units and equipment, Marfut said.

They responded with enthusiasm and openness, she said.

A large part of her presentation had to do with the contribution of intelligence in the decision-making process, Marfut said.

She brought along a clip from the film "Gettysburg" that shows a Union general surveying the battlefield terrain to illustrate how intelligence can be used in battlefield preparation.

"That particular clip is a perfect example of using terrain to your benefit and one, thanks to Hollywood, that is entertaining as well," Marfut said.

Marfut said she's anxious to return to Lithuania on a follow-up mission this spring.

Meanwhile, she's gearing up for a similar mission to Latvia in January.

"It's probably the most incredible thing I've done in my Army career," Marfut said.

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