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NEWS | May 8, 2014

Michigan Army National Guard Soldiers in Latvia for unmanned aircraft practice

By Angela Simpson Michigan National Guard

GRAYLING, Mich. - A 30-member Michigan Army National Guard Unmanned Aircraft System platoon arrived in Riga, Latvia, on Wednesday for a two-month deployment practicing unmanned aircraft system operations with Latvian army counterparts.

The platoon, led by Capt. Mark Wurth, trained 40 days for the mission. The unit, part of the Michigan National Guard's 126th Cavalry Regiment located near Grand Rapids, packed gear, food, clothing and supplies and headed out. With stops in Canada and Iceland, the platoon traveled in two C-130 aircraft, compliments of the Minnesota and North Carolina Air National Guard.

Latvian army Sgt. Yuri Putnich greeted the platoon in Latvian by saying, "Laipni Ludzam!" which means "Welcome to Latvia."

Michigan National Guard State Plans and Operations Deputy Lt. Col. Ryan Connelly and Sgt. 1st Class Richard Ochoa were among the first to shake hands with Latvian army representatives. Before boarding the C-130, Ochoa said, "We are looking forward to training with the Latvian army and establishing a working relationship in the field of unmanned aerial systems."

"I continue to be amazed by the abilities of Michigan National Guard Soldiers and Airmen," said Maj. Gen. Gregory Vadnais, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. "In little more than a month, these men trained up for the mission and made arrangements for jobs and other responsibilities at home. I am also impressed by the flexibility Michigan employers give to their Soldier and Airmen workers and am floored by the support that wives and family members give, and the sacrifices they make, to support such short-notice mobilization. The Soldiers, Airmen, employers, family, friends and community networks all contribute to the success of Michigan National Guard missions."

The Michigan National Guard and Latvian military forces have formed a family-like bond over the past 22 years of partnering through the National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. The NGB SPP encourages sharing information, equipment and strategic skills between U.S. National Guard forces and each state's respective partnership country. Latvian leaders, Soldiers and Airmen visit and train in Michigan as active, committed participants of the partnership.