LANSING, Mich. – When the Latvian Air Force recently purchased new UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, the call went out for a potential UH-60 maintenance training location in the United States. The Michigan Army National Guard’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment, was chosen in part due to the longstanding partnership Michigan has cultivated with Latvia through the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP).
“When we were asked if we could provide training and expertise to the Latvian Air Force, we reviewed their needs and came back with a ‘yes,’” said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Craig Fleser, 147th Aviation Regiment special projects officer. “As of right now, we plan on training on-the-ground maintainers and crew chiefs in the back of aircraft.”
According to Fleser, the first maintenance professional coming to Michigan, Latvian Air Force Capt. Raimonds Lugēņins, will serve as a test run to see how the program will grow.
“The UH-60 is a totally new helicopter for the Latvian Air Force,” said Lugēņins. “Since it is a new system, we don’t know about it. Getting insight on maintenance, flying and operation from experienced guys is a good thing.”
Before arriving in Michigan, Lugēņins spent 10 weeks learning UH-60 repair basics at Eastern ARNG Aviation Training Site in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
Lugēņins began four months of on-the-job training Nov. 24. Upon completion, he will have earned various certifications and be ready to attend the Aviation Maintenance Officer Course in Ft. Rucker, Alabama.
“[Lugēņins] will be receiving the same training that any non-rated crew member who flies and works on Black Hawks receives,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Zach Hollman, UH-60 crew chief Company B, 147th Aviation Regiment. “We are starting him off on the ground school and then we will start flying with him.”
The Latvian Air Force’s primary helicopter is the Mi-17 Hip, but they are acquiring four UH-60s in 2022.
“The goal is to give the Latvians a good idea on how to set up their Black Hawk maintenance program from the ground up,” said Hollman. “We want them to be able to troubleshoot in the air and on the ground, teach other crew members about scheduling, production and quality control, and run all the shops needed to make the aircraft flyable.”
Once the program is fully functional, the Black Hawks will help improve U.S. interoperability with Latvia. It will also help increase NATO’s capability in the Baltic region to provide troop lift, border security, anti-terrorist, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and combat support.
“We are not the only country in Europe who is buying Black Hawks,” said Lugēņins. “When most of the countries have them, we will be able to work together and help tie us together with the U.S. Army.”
The Latvian National Armed Forces already have strong ties with the Michigan National Guard (MING), thanks to the partnership that began in 1993. Lugēņins said this relationship means MING personnel have been assisting Latvia every step of the way with acquiring the UH-60s.
“The Michigan National Guard gave us insight on the size of back shops, the main equipment we should have, and what size hangar we should build,” said Lugēņins.
This initiative shows how the SPP is more than just traveling between two countries. It serves as an important tool for global security and executing the U.S. national defense strategy.
“This new training opportunity further demonstrates just how strong the longstanding partnership between the Michigan National Guard and the Latvian Armed Forces is,” said U.S. Army Capt. Robert Mason, MING SPP European Command desk officer. “We couldn’t ask for better partners and are excited to see how this program and our relationship grows in the future.”