Thirty-five Defense League (Kaitseliit) members who had returned from a six-month stint with NATO in Iraq were welcomed home Friday evening.
Defense League commander Brig. Gen. Riho Ühtegi, in a speech at the welcome ceremony at the force's Tallinn headquarters Friday, said: "The members of the Defense League proved that voluntary national defense is not just empty words - volunteers are able to perform military duties also in a real conflict situation."
"I am certain that the experience acquired in the past six months will also prove useful in rehearsing Estonia's defense and I urge that the members of Kaitseliit who have arrived home share these experiences with their districts," Ühetegi went on.
Deputy secretary general at the defense ministry Margus Matt, also at Friday's welcome ceremony, said: "Our troops who have served in military operations are held in high regard in Estonia as well as among our allies and partners.
"The exemplary service of members of the [Regular] Estonian Defense Forces and of the Defense League has become a quality trademark," he continued. "That, in turn, encourages our NATO allies to comprehensively contribute to Estonia' national defense. This is what solidarity is - readiness to help one another not just with words but also with action."
"That, in turn, encourages our NATO allies to comprehensively contribute to Estonia' national defense. This is what solidarity is -- readiness to help one another not just with words but also with action."
Ühtegi and Matt thanked the Defense League members, who received service medals. Family members were also present at the ceremony.
The 35 members were drawn from all 13 of the Defense League's districts, while their activities in Iraq mainly concerned escorting the allied forces and ensuring their security.
These tasks were similar to what the personnel would do at home, in crisis rehearsal situations, such as ensuring the security of objects and convoys and conducting patrols, but additionally in the context of both an international unit and a real conflict situation.
Force protection unit Estguard 4 was part of the NATO Mission Iraq (NMI), which was set up in 2018 and which aims to strengthen Iraqi security institutions and forces and involves around 500 personnel, including some from non-NATO partner states, including Finland and Sweden.
The Defense League augments the regular Estonian Defense Forces (EDF). The latter is composed of regular service people, conscripts and reservists. The Defense League is volunteer-based and recruited territorially; as such it is a citizenry force and, alongside the EDF conscripts and reservists, means that there is much less separation between civil and military society in Estonia than might be expected in larger countries which do not have conscription, such as the U.K.
Editor: Andrew Whyte