CAMP ĀDAŽI, Latvia - For most of the year, National Guard members have civilian occupations — some are firefighters, police officers, teachers, mechanics and electricians. But when military duty calls, they drop everything to put on their uniforms and support U.S. national security interests.
In early May, nearly 100 members of the Michigan National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 182nd Field Artillery Regiment, did exactly that. More than 4,000 miles away from home, they partnered with the Latvian Mechanized Infantry Brigade and fires elements within NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence group from Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Poland. Operating in the Baltic region, they participated in a multinational fires exercise called Solar Eclipse, nested under U.S Army Europe and Africa’s (USAREUR-AF) exercise Swift Response 23.
The 1-182 FA operates the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), a long-range precision strike weapon system. It fires rockets or missiles to provide a ground forces commander with highly mobile combat power.
“We focus on providing ‘deep fires,’” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Richie Sands, 1-182 FA commander. “We train on the deep threat, focusing on the enemy’s command and control, logistical nodes and supply lines.”
These Michiganders worked with NATO allies to refine the ability to integrate fires and interoperability to allow them to fight as a single force if called upon. To enable an even more rapid deployment of forces, the Michigan battery coordinated with USAREUR-AF to draw their HIMARS systems from the U.S. Army’s Prepositioned Stocks program in Europe.
“The battalion reported to the armory in Detroit on May 4th; within 72 hours we had projected our forces forward to Camp Ādaži, Latvia,” said Sands. “Within hours of landing, we drew equipment from the Army Prepositioned Stocks program, got it operational, and began training and integrating with our NATO partners.”
While National Guard members train to deploy anywhere, any time, the sandy ranges of Camp Ādaži are familiar ground to the Michiganders thanks to the state’s 30-year State Partnership Program agreement with the National Armed Forces of Latvia.
“This is not our first time here,” said Sands. “We truly value the opportunity to participate in exercises like this with our Latvian partners because we see tactics, techniques and procedures that maybe we haven’t thought of before. We can also provide lessons we’ve learned while deployed abroad.”
The presence of Michigan’s 1-182 FA is especially relevant due to the Latvian Ministry of Defense’s confirmation in October that Latvia will acquire the HIMARS system.
“The event allowed the Michigan National Guard to partner with Latvia and enable development of Latvian rocket artillery,” said U.S. Army Maj. Catalin Bugan, bilateral affairs officer for the Michigan National Guard. “This cooperation marks the latest chapter of our 30-year partnership with Latvia under the SPP, and Michigan is proud to have been invited to provide our HIMARS expertise to Latvia.”
The exchange of knowledge and experience on the HIMARS will continue.
“Just like the Michigan National Guard has done with other lines of effort such as the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, Michigan will provide support as Latvia establishes their own techniques and procedures on the HIMARS,” said Sands. “We want to understand Latvia’s objectives and then offer knowledge and conduct state partnership exchanges based on what their objectives are.”
In addition to other live fire exercise events at Camp Ādaži, highlights of the 1-182 FAR’s time in the Baltic region this spring included a “Baltic Raid” drill at Šķēde, Latvia, which saw the HIMARS fire for the first time from Latvia into the Baltic Sea against simulated naval targets. The 1-182 FA also performed a HIMARS Rapid Infiltration live fire exercise from Latvia into Estonia. For this event, the HIMARS were loaded onto C-17 Globemaster aircraft from the U.S. Air Force and transported from Lielvārde Air Base, Latvia, to Saaremma, Estonia, where operations continued.
“Our goal with the event in Estonia was to expand on our relationship with the Estonian Armed Forces as another important ally in the region,” said 1st Sgt. David Howie, Bravo Battery 1-182 FA first sergeant. “The time to build relationships is during an exercise, so you know how to work together prior to a time of conflict or crisis.”
The Michigan National Guard members also provided several HIMARS static displays throughout Latvia, including in Daugavpils, about 33 kilometers north of the border between Latvia and Belarus.
“These public events gave residents an up-close look at the HIMARS,” said Bugan. “The static displays were a tangible demonstration of the strength of Michigan’s partnership with Latvia and the U.S. commitment to NATO.”
Sands says that while he has been to Latvia approximately 20 times over the past 10 years to help build capability within Latvia’s Joint Fires Observer program, this trip was a bit different. With Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine, there is a greater sense of urgency to deter and defend against threats to democracy, peace and sovereignty in Europe.
He says that’s why ongoing exchanges and coordination with allies under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program are so important.
“For us, it’s very beneficial to build that interoperability and understanding with our partners so if we do have to fight together, we know how each other’s militaries work and how we can be successful in combat together,” said Sands. “It’s very rewarding, and we truly love working together. I think that’s why Michigan and Latvia continually demonstrate what a good partnership is.”