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Michigan field artillery's 'Blackjacks' training in Latvia

By Sgt. 1st Class Helen Miller | Michigan National Guard | April 19, 2016

ADAZI TRAINING CENTER, Latvia - The Blackjacks, a self-given nickname for the 119th Field Artillery, Michigan Army National Guard, are participating in exercise Summer Shield XIII for the next two weeks in Latvia.

This is the second year the unit has participated in the training exercise. "That is why I call this trip 'Black Jacks-Double Down,'" says Capt. Del Avery, a battery commander in the 119th Field Artillery. "We have been here as a unit before and our Latvian counterparts are very excited to have us back. We learned a lot from each other last year and are very excited to continue our mentorship and learning again this year."

The mission is to mentor the Latvians, and possibly others, on gunnery and fire support. Since 2004, the training event has taken place in Latvia. This year more than 1,600 Soldiers from Canada, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and the United States will participate in the exercise.

The exercise takes place at Adazi Training Area, Latvia, where the members of the 119th will live in generator-powered tents and sleep on cots side by side with their Latvian counterparts. Not only training together but living together, to build friendships and continue to strengthen partnerships.

"The Latvians are very smart and extremely eager and willing to learn. They learn quickly and are able to apply what they learn to their own training after we leave," said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Orr, acting first sergeant for the exercise.

Staff Sgt. Dennis Liehr, fire directions center chief, participated in the exercise with the Blackjacks last year and is excited to be able to bring new Soldiers with him this year. "I am happy these young Soldiers can come and experience a new and different culture and train with counterparts from another country. It is a great experience for these Soldiers to be able to travel and learn. There could be a real life situation where we will need to work with other nations, so it is good to be able to train with them now and get to know how to work with each other so if the time comes to do this for real, we are ready."

During the exercise, military units will practice a wide range of combat skills involving artillery, mortars, combat engineering, anti-tank defense and defense against weapons of mass destruction.