RIGA, Latvia - Praising the relationship between his nation and the Michigan National Guard, the prime minister of Latvia observed an aerial refueling operation aboard a Michigan Air National Guard KC-135 Stratotanker over the skies of Latvia.
Latvia and Michigan have been partners in the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership for Peace program for 20 years. Over the years, Michigan and Latvia have hosted a number of exchange programs and participated in several training exercises together. Latvian combat controllers routinely work closely with Michigan Air National Guard joint terminal attack controllers at the Grayling Air Gunnery Range in northern Michigan. Latvia has also contributed ground forces to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"It is quite important to have a visible U.S. operation in our region," said Valdis Dombrovskis, who has been prime minister of Latvia since 2009.
This month, the Michigan Air Guard was partnering with Latvia on two specific projects.
In the first project, they worked closely together during Saber Strike 2012, a multi-national, tactical field training exercise based in Estonia and neighboring Latvia that involved more than 2,000 personnel from a total of eight nations.
The second saw them working together to conduct a survey and development plan for a military air field in Latvia using an air field that has had little use since Latvia won its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
"Meetings like this, partnerships, are an important part of the development of Latvia," Dombrovskis said while in the cargo section of the KC-135, moments after watching a Michigan Air National Guard A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft receive fuel in a mid-air operation.
Two days earlier, the prime minister of Estonia, Andrus Ansip, visited the Michigan Airmen who were operating from Amari Air Base in Estonia. Andrus did not fly, but spoke with the Airmen and was given a briefing on the capabilities of the two types of aircraft.
Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Roberts, bilateral affairs officer with the Michigan Guard, said the Michigan Air Guard's operations in the Baltics was nothing short of spectacular and integrated Michigan Air Guard pilots and Latvian ground personnel guiding them to targets on the ground.
"That is exactly the partnership we want to highlight, how we can combine the capabilities and the professional skills of the Air National Guard with the Latvian forces," Roberts said. "The entire operation clearly demonstrated that the partnership that began between Latvia and Michigan 20 years ago has proven to be a strong one and a beneficial one for both sides," Roberts said.
In addition to the Saber Strike operations, a team of about 20 Michigan Airmen were working with the Latvian Air Force on the base site survey plan at Lielvārde Air Base. The air base is operational, but the Latvian prime minister said his country's goal is to work with NATO to best determine what specialty services or operations may be best suited for the base and to develop the base accordingly.