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A-10 pilot explores roots in Lithuania

A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, 303d Fighter Squadron, exchanges uniform patches with Capt. Darius Kaleda of the Lithuanian Air Force at Kaunas Airport in Lithuania Sept. 9. Leonas flew in as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve where the U.S. is partnering and strengthening their relationship with European NATO allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Denise Haeussler)

A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, 303d Fighter Squadron, exchanges uniform patches with Capt. Darius Kaleda of the Lithuanian Air Force at Kaunas Airport in Lithuania Sept. 9. Leonas flew in as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve where the U.S. is partnering and strengthening their relationship with European NATO allies. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Denise Haeussler)

A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, 303d Fighter Squadron, looks at various photos of his great grandfather Petras Leonas at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania Sept. 9. Leonas flew an A-10 into Kaunas International Airport as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Having family ties to Lithuania, Leonas took a tour of the city and visited places where his great grandfather lived and worked. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Denise Haeussler)

A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot, Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, 303d Fighter Squadron, looks at various photos of his great grandfather Petras Leonas at Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas, Lithuania Sept. 9. Leonas flew an A-10 into Kaunas International Airport as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Having family ties to Lithuania, Leonas took a tour of the city and visited places where his great grandfather lived and worked. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Denise Haeussler)

KAUNAS INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, Lithuania --

One of the Air Force Reserve A-10 pilots making the historic landing in Latvia is exploring his personal history in Lithuania. 

Lt. Col. Michael Leonas, 303rd Fighter Squadron, 442nd Fighter Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., landed at Kaunas Airport Sept. 9, marking the first A-10s to land in the country, according to Capt. Darius Kaleda of the Lithuanian military.

Leonas also has Lithuanian heritage.  His grandparents lived in Kaunas and narrowly escaped to Nazi Germany before the Soviet Occupation with his father, who was just a baby at the time.

"Flying over I did have some emotions knowing what my family went through here during World War II, but at the same time it's awesome to be here and be a part of this history. I don't get to do that every day" said Leonas with a grin.

Leonas met with the Chief of Staff of the Lithuanian Air Force, Lt. Col. Devis Martusevicius, at Air Force Headquarters in downtown Kaunas for a short brief on the Lithuanian AF.

Upon entering the building, Leonas learned that it was built in 1920 and that his great grandfather had worked internal affairs there before the war.

"He probably walked these same halls that you just did," said Martusevicius as emotions from nostalgia to awe crossed Leonas's face.

After the briefing, the group had lunch together at a local restaurant, then the pilots were taken on a short tour of the city and Leonas was shown where his grandfather had lived and the university where he worked. After a short stop at Vytautas the Great War Museum, it was time to head back to the jets. 

"This day was so important to me walking in the same footsteps that my family once did during a different time in this country," said Leonas.

Once back at the airport, Leonas bid farewell to his Lithuanian partners, thanking them for their welcome and hospitality.

Right before Leonas climbed back into the A-10 for his return flight, he gave Kaleda a 442nd FW unit coin telling him, "The 303rd is just one squadron, but we are here supporting the entire effort of NATO."