LANSING, Mich. –
For nearly 30 years, the Michigan National Guard (MING) has had a rich cooperation with the National Armed Forces of Latvia under the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program (SPP). On July 1st, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš visited with MING leadership for the first time at the Michigan Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing. His visit took on added significance as the U.S. and Latvia celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations throughout 2022.
“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 is today an important NATO ally in the Baltic region. Latvia won its independence from the Russian Empire in 1918 and the United States established diplomatic relations with Latvia on July 28, 1922. The United States never recognized the United Socialist Soviet Republic’s occupation and forcible annexation of Latvia in 1940. The people of Latvia restored their 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, in addition to its continued security cooperation through the SPP.
Through the SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency engagements spanning military, government, economic and social spheres.
“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 a variety of topics including long range precision fires, air-to-ground development, and the Michigan National Guard’s marquee exercise, Northern Strike. Northern Strike is a multi-component exercise designed to build readiness and enhance interoperability with allied forces and 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 ten years ago,” said Rogers. “This year will be the largest Northern Strike exercise yet with about 8,000 participants.”
Kariņš listened as MING leaders recounted the fact that during the War in Afghanistan, Soldiers from Michigan and Latvia literally trained, fought, and died together. Two Latvian personnel were killed in action on combined deployments with the Michigan National Guard and today, they are memorialized along 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.”
As the two leaders discussed the advantages of partnership, the conversation turned to training through innovation. Initiatives on the horizon for the Michigan-Latvia cooperation include an innovation partnership with Riga Technological Institute, greater emphasis on strengthening data sharing and command and control capabilities, as well as 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.”