LANSING, Mich. - For nearly 30 years, the Michigan National Guard and the National Armed Forces of Latvia have collaborated under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.
On July 1, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš visited with Michigan Guard leaders for the first time at the Michigan Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing. His visit took on added significance as the United States and Latvia celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations.
“One of the inspiring parts of my office is working with the military,” said Kariņš. “The respect and close cooperation with Michigan is highly appreciated, not only among the military but across the society as a whole.”
Latvia, an important NATO ally in the Baltic region, won its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918. The United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia July 28, 1922, and never recognized the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ occupation and forcible annexation of Latvia in 1940. Latvia restored its independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed.
Michigan and Latvia have particularly close ties, as Michigan has one of the largest Latvian-American populations in the country.
“Michigan is proud of its close relationship with Latvia, which has shown its value not only though numerous combined deployments, training exercises and initiatives under the SPP but also in the rich Latvian-American community that calls Michigan home,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “We are honored to welcome Prime Minister Kariņš to Michigan, especially as we celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries.”
During their visit, the two leaders discussed long-range precision fires, air-to-ground development, and the Michigan National Guard’s marquee exercise, Northern Strike. Northern Strike is a multicomponent exercise to build readiness and enhance interoperability with allied forces, and it is held at the National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan.
“Northern Strike would not be the same without Latvia’s participation. They have been there since Day One when the exercise series began close to 10 years ago,” said Rogers. “This year will be the largest Northern Strike exercise yet with about 8,000 participants.”
Kariņš listened as Michigan National Guard leaders recounted how Soldiers from Michigan and Latvia trained, fought and died together in the war in Afghanistan. Two Latvian personnel killed in action on combined deployments with the Michigan National Guard are memorialized with fallen Michigan Soldiers in the “Hall of Honor” at Michigan’s Joint Forces Headquarters.
“You have to work side-by-side and face tough challenges and overcome those challenges together,” said Rogers. “Through that experience of true partnership, our Soldiers and Airmen have been enriched and are more aware of how the world really works.”
Initiatives on the horizon for the Michigan-Latvia relationship include an innovation partnership with Riga Technological Institute, strengthening data sharing and command and control capabilities, and continued participation in joint exercises like Northern Strike.
Karins’ visit was followed on July 2 by a special tribute to Latvia by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who met with Latvian Ambassador Māris Selga and Defense Attaché Maj. Gen. Andis Dilāns in Michigan at the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show.
“The commitment between Latvia and the Michigan National Guard continues to strengthen. We’re of like minds and will always be there as a partner,” said Rogers. “We’re committed to support Latvia any way possible and continue to heighten the value of our training and partnership initiatives.”