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NEWS | May 11, 2023

Latvia honors Michigan National Guard partnership’s past, future with national postage stamp

By Capt. Andrew Layton Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

A new national postage stamp was unveiled May 3, 2023 by Latvia Post, honoring the 30th anniversary of Latvia’s defense cooperation with the Michigan National Guard under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP).

The stamp, which features the image of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, was unveiled during a series of events held in Latvia’s capital to reflect upon the accomplishments and relationships generated from three decades of shared experience. Currently, the UH-60 Black Hawk is a major line of effort for the SPP, which will soon see Michigan and Latvia flying the aircraft together to improve mutual air mobility capability.

“There is a lot of talk these days about how a country cannot safely exist without a strong military defense capability,” said Mārcis Vilcāns, chairman of the board for Latvia Post. “The 30-year cooperation between the Latvian National Armed Forces and the Michigan National Guard certainly meets these criteria, so we have issued this new stamp to remember old achievements and to look ahead toward future objectives.”

Around 200 dignitaries from Latvia, as well as a delegation of Michigan National Guard leaders, gathered inside Riga’s ornate “House of the Blackheads” for the event, which also included a reception and film screening on the 30-year bond. The film documented many notable achievements of the SPP, including development of the Latvian National Guard, medical and engineer cooperation, the establishment of Latvia’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) program, multiple combined deployments to Afghanistan, and the certification of Lielvārde Airfield as a fully functioning base for NATO air power.

Michigan and Latvia were one of the first pairings under the SPP, which has now grown to more than 85 similar partnerships between a U.S. state’s National Guard and the national armed forces of a partner country.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, reflected on the partnership’s roots, which can be traced back to Michigan’s vibrant Latvian-American community.

“30 years ago, it was the adjutant general’s secretary, a Latvian-American woman named Dace Mason, who walked into the general’s office when the list of Baltic counties seeking security cooperation opportunities came out,” said Rogers. “She pointed to Latvia and said, ‘General, here is your partnership.’”

In a combined awards ceremony, five members of the Michigan National Guard were decorated in person by Latvian Chief of Defense, Lt. Gen. Leonīds Kalniņš, for contributions to cooperative exercises and exchanges. Award recipients included Col. Robert Frazer, Lt. Col. Adam Jenzen, Lt. Col. Bartley Ward, Maj. Catalin Bugan, and Command Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Jon Sawyer. Other recipients who were unable to attend in person include Col. Ravindra Wagh, Lt. Col. Mark Gorzynski, Lt. Col. (ret.) Dustin Budd, and Maj. (ret.) Adam Betz.

“Looking back 30 years, I would like to congratulate the great talents who started this cooperation, who saw the value that true friendship can bring to building military capability,” said Kalniņš, “I believe there is a bright future to our cooperation; I trust the capability of our people, in both countries, who day by day, hour by hour, will keep and renew the military capabilities that are necessary to defend our society, our people, and our democratic values.”

Rogers also presented each of Latvia’s former chiefs of defense with a special commemorative coin recognizing three decades of mutually beneficial achievement.

Leaders on both sides of the partnership acknowledged that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has underscored the value of close coordination and cooperation between Allies to assure every inch of NATO soil is defended.

“Time can cause some partnerships to weaken, but that is not the case with Latvia and Michigan,” said Rogers. “Time is what makes our relationships stronger, what makes our bond more inseparable, and what gives us the assurance that we can rely on one another in times of difficulty.”

“We will always be there for one another, and we will always support one another,” he added.

The stamp unveiling and award ceremony followed an event earlier in the day dedicating a special photo exhibit celebrating the 30-year Michigan-Latvia cooperation at Bastejkalna Park in the heart of Riga.

More events are taking place throughout early May, including joint performances between the Michigan National Guard’s 126th Army Band and the Latvian National Guard Orchestra to celebrate the partnership’s groundbreaking achievements.