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Standing ready to guard the future

Posted 6/17/2014   Updated 6/17/2014 Email story   Print story


by Senior Airman Jonathan Stefanko
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

6/17/2014 - Adaži Training Area, Latvia  -- The Air and Army National Guard came together with allied nations to participate in Saber Strike 2014 here recently.

With the responsibility of standing ready to respond to natural disasters, civil emergencies and military operations, it is critical for the citizen Soldiers and Airmen to participate in exercises like Saber Strike to maintain the skills needed to defend America and its allies.

Along with providing an opportunity for the U.S. Army and Air Force to operate together, Saber Strike attracted more than 4,700 military members from 10 nations.

"You really get to see the critical role you play across the world because of Saber Strike, especially as guardsmen," said Capt. Travis Hartzell, 116th Air Support Operations Squadron joint tactical air controller. "But I think it's the value of being a guardsman which helps sustain the continuing partnership with the same country. We built an enduring relationship which I think will help in reaching the ultimate goal of peace."

For more than 20 years, Michigan has worked hand in hand with Latvia through the State Partnership Program, building the proficiency needed to encourage growth not only as a military but as a country.

"The bond between Latvia and Michigan started in World War II," said Latvian Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube, Chief of Defense, Republic of Latvia. "A lot of Latvians fled to Michigan [when attacked by enemy forces] because the environment there was very similar. Now, Michigan has one of the largest Latvian communities in the United States.

"Long after the war people here would want to go visit Michigan because they had families there" Graube continued. "Businessmen have been able to employ here, there were marriages, and children have been born because of the State Partnership Program. Latvian society has been greatly influenced. The program is not a corporation; we all know each other and we are all friends."

It is through building a long standing relationship through the State Partnership Program that Latvia now has the capabilities to assist air policing missions even without an Air Force, turning the Baltic State into a cherished asset for interoperable missions.

"The best way to prepare for future joint operations is to have a bond, an unbreakable trust for the person on the ground guiding the U.S. aircraft even if it's not an American giving the directions," said Lt. Col. Andrew Roberts, bilateral affairs officer, U.S. Embassy-Latvia. "The Latvians wanted to develop the Joint Tactical Air Control capability to defend their country and meet their strategic goals, and we needed to figure out a way to accomplish this.

"We taught a select few Latvian soldiers English and put them through a course that would nurture them into JTACs," Roberts continued. "After they learned the fundamentals, we brought them to Michigan for a week just so they can see jets, an asset they have never used or in some cases even seen. We also provided hands on training because this soldier is used to thinking like an infantryman where 30 minutes is plenty of time, but for us (JTACs and pilots) 30 minutes is hundreds of miles and multiple attacks. They needed to understand at what speed they should operate at."

Now, Latvia has a self-sustained JTAC force that is capable of creating future generations to support in interoperable missions all because of a friendship that started more than 20 years ago.

The State Partnership Program and exercises like Saber Strike work together to build upon a relationship of trust and camaraderie between the U.S. and its allied nations, preparing professional and dedicated service members who stand ready to secure the future.

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