Michigan and Latvia strengthen partnerships during virtual public affairs workshop

U.S. military Public Affairs professionals from Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, and Washington recently joined with counterparts from the Republic of Latvia to sharpen their skills as media content creators during a military storytelling workshop held virtually from March 15-19, 2021. A total of more than 40 personnel participated in the event, designed to build on a series of in-person workshops led in 2019 by Michigan and Latvia through their link under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Michigan and Latvia have been partnered since the program’s inception in 1993.

Michigan National Guard 

Story by Capt. Andrew Layton

LANSING, Mich. – U.S. military Public Affairs professionals from Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, and Washington recently joined with counterparts from the Republic of Latvia to sharpen their skills as media content creators during a military storytelling workshop held virtually March 15-19, 2021.

A total of more than 40 personnel participated in the event, designed to build on a series of in-person workshops led in 2019 by Michigan and Latvia through their link under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). Michigan and Latvia have been partnered since the program’s inception in 1993.

“The Coronavirus pandemic has really limited the opportunities for us to travel, but we wanted to keep the relationships and momentum going that we had worked so hard to build,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Scott Thompson, a public affairs specialist with the 110th Wing, Michigan Air National Guard, and a key facilitator of the event. “This event was a test to see if a meaningful exchange of skills could be held virtually and it proved to be tremendously successful.”

Thompson, the 2010 National Guard photographer of the year, ensured that participants did not require high-end video editing equipment to gain something from the experience. As long as they had a way to record and edit video – even on a cell phone – the objectives could be met. Discussion topics included blocks on the foundational elements of storytelling, shot sequencing, transitions, audio, interviewing techniques, and other methods to create and tell a compelling story.

The Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing also supported coordination for the event as a low-cost, high-return annual training opportunity for their entire Public Affairs office.

“We took part in this opportunity because we wanted to generate enthusiasm for storytelling among our team, and make the process of telling a story through video exciting and tangible – we definitely achieved the results we hoped for,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Francine St. Laurent, public affairs officer for the 141st ARW. “We really enjoyed the international layer and I think it helped our junior Airmen to see that we do the same work that public affairs professionals in NATO partner militaries do.”

The event culminated with a final hands-on assignment to produce a 60-second video. Opportunities for one-on-one feedback and mentorship helped sharpen skillsets during the entire process.

“Picking up a book or an article – or even watching a video online – is nothing compared to getting this kind of mentorship on an assignment you worked on yourself,” said Pfc. Margarita Bunkše, a public affairs specialist with the Latvian National Armed Forces Headquarters Battalion. “This workshop taught me how to visualize my story, my scenes, my character and then shoot accordingly so that I can tell a better and more meaningful story; it has given me some basic tools to create much better videos that become representative stories about my battalion.”

Also participating in the workshop were members of the 92d Air Refueling Wing, Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., 182d Airlift Wing, Illinois Air National Guard, 225th Air Defense Group, Washington Air National Guard, Michigan National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters and the New Jersey National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters, as well as observers from U.S. European Command.

Though Thompson says he hopes to get back to events like the in-person public affairs workshops previously held in Michigan during exercise Northern Strike, the virtual format marks an innovative way to keep relationships at the forefront of cooperation when circumstances like the Coronavirus pandemic present unforeseen challenges.

“Nothing can replace the value of working together in-person when it comes to building partnerships,” said Thompson, “but even a virtual event like this has proven its value in keeping us focused on the fact that we can never stop working together to get better at we do, and to get stronger in our bond.”

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