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Home : News
NEWS | May 8, 2023

Latvia Honors Michigan Guard Partnership with Postage Stamp

By Capt. Andrew Layton, Michigan National Guard

RIGA, Latvia - A national postage stamp was unveiled May 3 by Latvia Post, honoring the 30th anniversary of Latvia’s defense cooperation with the Michigan National Guard under the State Partnership Program.

The stamp, which features the image of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, was unveiled during events in Latvia’s capital celebrating three decades of shared experience. 

The UH-60 Black Hawk is a major line of effort for the SPP, and Michigan and Latvia will soon fly the aircraft together to improve mutual air mobility capability.

“There is a lot of talk these days about how a country cannot safely exist without a strong military defense capability,” said Mārcis Vilcāns, chairman of the board for Latvia Post. “The 30-year cooperation between the Latvian National Armed Forces and the Michigan National Guard certainly meets these criteria, so we have issued this new stamp to remember old achievements and to look ahead toward future objectives.”

About 200 dignitaries from Latvia and a delegation of Michigan National Guard leaders gathered inside Riga’s ornate “House of the Blackheads” for the event, which included a reception and film screening on the 30-year bond. The film documented many achievements of the SPP, including the development of the Latvian National Guard, medical and engineer cooperation, the establishment of Latvia’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller program, multiple combined deployments to Afghanistan, and the certification of Lielvārde Airfield as a fully functioning base for NATO air power.

Michigan and Latvia were one of the first pairings under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau program. The SPP began 30 years ago after the breakup of the Soviet Union to help countries emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. It now pairs 100 nations with National Guards from every state and U.S. territories to increase regional security and advance U.S. interests. 

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, reflected on the partnership’s roots in Michigan’s vibrant Latvian-American community.

“Thirty years ago, it was the adjutant general’s secretary, a Latvian-American woman named Dace Mason, who walked into the general’s office when the list of Baltic countries seeking security cooperation opportunities came out,” said Rogers. “She pointed to Latvia and said, ‘General, here is your partnership.’”

In a combined awards ceremony, Lt. Gen. Leonīds Kalniņš, Latvian Chief of Defense, awarded Michigan National Guard members for contributions to joint exercises and exchanges. 

Recipients included Col. Robert Frazer, Lt. Col. Adam Jenzen, Lt. Col. Bartley Ward, Maj. Catalin Bugan, and retired Command Sgt. Maj. Jon Sawyer. Recipients who could not attend were Col. Ravindra Wagh, Lt. Col. Mark Gorzynski, retired Lt. Col. Dustin Budd, and retired Maj. Adam Betz.

“Looking back 30 years, I would like to congratulate the great talents who started this cooperation, who saw the value that true friendship can bring to building military capability,” said Kalniņš, “I believe there is a bright future to our cooperation. I trust the capability of our people, in both countries, who day by day, hour by hour, will keep and renew the military capabilities that are necessary to defend our society, our people and our democratic values.”

Rogers presented each of Latvia’s former chiefs of defense with a commemorative coin recognizing three decades of mutually beneficial achievement.

Leaders on both sides of the partnership acknowledged that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has underscored the value of coordination and cooperation between allies to ensure every inch of NATO soil is defended.

“Time can cause some partnerships to weaken, but that is not the case with Latvia and Michigan,” said Rogers. “Time is what makes our relationships stronger, what makes our bond more inseparable, and what gives us the assurance that we can rely on one another in times of difficulty.

“We will always be there for one another, and we will always support one another,” he said.

The stamp unveiling and award ceremony followed a dedication at Bastejkalna Park of a photo exhibit celebrating the Michigan-Latvia partnership.

More events planned in May include joint performances between the Michigan National Guard’s 126th Army Band and the Latvian National Guard Orchestra.