LANSING, Mich. – More than 25 public affairs specialists from the Michigan National Guard, Latvian National Armed Forces, and the Armed Forces of Liberia teamed up April 12-22 to hold a virtual storytelling workshop under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program.
The event was the sixth in a series of storytelling workshops initiated by colleagues in Michigan and Latvia in 2019. After four in-person events in 2019, the series went virtual in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This online environment is opening new opportunities for the program in 2022.
“Holding the workshop virtually has actually allowed us to welcome in our partners from Liberia, and we are so happy for them to join us,” said Master Sgt. Scott Thompson, a public affairs specialist with the 110th Wing, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan. “This is one of the first events where Latvia, Liberia and Michigan have participated in a trilateral cooperation, so it’s kind of an historic occasion for us.”
This workshop, like others in the series, was designed to be a highly efficient professional development opportunity. No high-end video editing equipment was required; as long as students had a way to record and edit photos – even on a cell phone – the objectives could be met. Discussion topics included the foundational elements of storytelling, shot sequencing, interviewing techniques, and other methods to create and tell a compelling story in a military context.
“I was extremely excited about the opportunity to work with Michigan National Guard mentors,” said Lāsma Fūrmane, a public affairs specialist from the Latvian Armed Forces. “The recognition of the mentors during lessons was very motivating.”
Michigan, Latvia and Liberia are united by a longstanding link under the State Partnership Program. Latvia and Michigan were one of the first three partnerships formed under the SPP in 1993, and they have consistently engaged in the three decades since. A partnership with Liberia was formed in 2010. Recently, the partners have emphasized trilateral cooperation.
“At first, I struggled with leaving my comfort zone, but I overcame it by being friendly with people I was meeting,” said Staff Sgt. Tokpha Wellington of the Armed Forces of Liberia. “This workshop gave me a clear understanding of how to use photos in telling a story. I wish that the workshop was longer!”
The event culminated with a hands-on assignment to produce a compelling photo story using relevant themes and messages. Opportunities for one-on-one feedback and mentorship helped sharpen skills during the process.
Thompson says the workshop is an example of how unforeseen circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic have opened new opportunities for innovation in how partnerships can build readiness.
“This year, the virtual environment has allowed us to work with our partners from Liberia as well, which is proving to be a groundbreaking and rewarding cooperation,” said Thompson. “It’s definitely a privilege to get to know our partners better and build capability in new and exciting ways. We can’t wait to see what the next chapter of our story brings.”