Michigan National Guard, Latvian Armed Forces reaffirm relationship during COVID-19 pandemic

Soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 119th Field Artillery, Michigan National Guard mentor Latvian Army Soldiers on live fire procedures of M777 howitzer during exercise Summer Shield XIII held in Adazi, Latvia April 21. Soldiers of the 1-119th FA deployed to Latvia for a multinational fires and effects training exercise. Latvia and Michigan have trained together through the State Partnership Program for 24 years. (Michigan Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Helen Miller/Released).

Michigan National Guard

Story by Senior Airman Tristan Viglianco

LANSING, Mich. — The Latvian National Armed Forces and the Michigan National Guard have developed a relationship stretching back nearly three decades through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. One of the great traditions of this cooperation is the celebration of Latvia’s national Independence Day, observed each year on Nov. 18. For visiting members of the Michigan National Guard, that day of pageantry and patriotism caps a week of readiness exercises and skills exchanges with Latvian counterparts. Even the Michigan National Guard’s color guard has been a fixture in Latvia’s Independence Day parade for many years.

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the partners were unable to celebrate the 102nd anniversary of Latvia’s independence together in person. This did not deter them from reaffirming their commitment to meaningful cooperation with a video teleconference event on Nov. 24.

“I am grateful for any opportunity to meet with our Latvian partners, even in this virtual setting,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Time and again, this partnership proves its value as we continue to overcome obstacles together; we all get a lot out of our cooperation with Latvia and we are thankful for the unshakable foundation on which this partnership is built.”

The event featured discussion about ongoing cooperation between both countries, future cooperation and exercise participation, and development of Latvian military infrastructure.

Both parties reflected on a major achievement of the partnership this year, marked by the safe participation of Latvian military personnel in exercise Northern Strike 20, the National Guard Bureau’s premier joint fires exercise held at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan. Despite the challenges of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, Latvians displayed their strong commitment to the partnership by persisting. Members were tested before leaving Latvia for Michigan, screened during the Latvians’ stay in Michigan, and received additional pre-departure screening prior to their return.

“We believe Michigan and Latvia have the best partnership and cooperation in the State Partnership Program,” said Lt. Gen. Leonīds Kalniņš, Latvian Chief of Defence. “Our partnership will be valuable to enhance our military capabilities and increase our readiness in the future.”

The partners have reason to be proud of what they have achieved together: Michigan and Latvia were the first to be linked under the SPP in 1993, partially due to the large Latvian-American population in Michigan. The SPP has been successfully building relationships ever since and now includes 82 partnerships with 84 nations around the globe.

Both leaders emphasized that the relationship between their organizations is critical in enhancing multinational interoperability between our counties and ensuring the security of Europe more broadly.

“Investment in the future, working together, and building infrastructure will help ensure the success of mutually beneficial programs that enhance security and peace in the region,” said Rogers. “In the long term, the more involvement we have between Latvia and Michigan, the better it will be for our capabilities, and I think I speak on behalf of the entire Michigan National Guard in saying that we can’t wait to celebrate our future successes next year, together and in person.”

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