News: ND Guard Soldiers travel to Latvia as part of NATO exercises
Story by Sgt. Tyler Sletten
Editor's note: This is a U.S. Army Europe release written by a member of the North Dakota Army National Guard's 116th Public Affairs Detachment.
ADAZI, Latvia - Six members of the North Dakota National Guard's 116th Public Affairs Detachment (PAD) are in Latvia this month in support of unscheduled land-force exercises between NATO allies in the Baltic region.
During the support mission, the Soldiers are participating in Exercise Saber Strike, which is a long-standing, multilateral, multifaceted, U.S Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise primarily focused on the three Baltic States. The exercise, which runs June 4-28, spans multiple locations in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and involves approximately 4,500 personnel from 10 countries.
"The Soldiers of the 116th PAD have the amazing opportunity to not only work with our own U.S. brothers- and sisters-in-arms, but to provide print and broadcast products for our NATO allies during an expansive exercise," said Capt. Kristi Blair, the commander of the 116th PAD. "Their products are being viewed on a worldwide scale and I am extremely proud of their dedication to their mission."
The 116th PAD members are working with public affairs Soldiers from several countries as part of a Combined Press Information Center for the exercise, which includes Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Holland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The North Dakota Soldiers also are providing public affairs support for the Saber Strike exercise in Lithuania and Estonia.
Throughout the mission, the unit will be involved in both print and video journalism, information gathering and distribution and media facilitation.
Last week, the North Dakota Soldiers were invited by the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based out of Caserma Del Din, Vicenza, Italy, to document an allied airborne operation involving U.S., Canadian and Latvian paratroopers. 116th PAD members were positioned on the drop zone and rigged GoPro cameras inside the C-130 aircraft to capture images and video of the paratroopers exiting the aircraft. The "Sky Soldiers" of the 173rd are the Army Contingency Response Force in Europe, and is capable of providing forces within 18 hours to conduct the full range of military operations across the U.S., European, Central and Africa Commands' areas of responsibility.
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd are deployed to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to participate in exercises with NATO allies to demonstrate commitment to the alliance and increase interoperability between forces.
Sgt. Alonzo-Vincent Werner, a jumpmaster with the 173rd Airborne, explained that, "it is rare when an airborne unit has the opportunity to conduct operations with foreign airborne units."
Spc. Cassandra Simonton, a print journalist and photographer with the 116th PAD, flew on the C-130 with the 173rd to take photos during the operation.
"Meeting and photographing the 173rd, the Canadians and the Latvians was an experience I will never forget. I was impressed with how squared away the paratroopers were from all countries and for their enthusiasm and dedication to their profession," she said.
The U.S. Army's Joint Multinational Readiness Center's Observer, Coach, Trainers (OCT) also are working in Latvia as part of Saber Strike. The OCTs work as coaches, getting different armies to work together and learn from each other's tactics.
Sgt. Tyler Sletten, a broadcaster with the 116th PAD, learned that Lt. Col. Brent Legreid, commander for the OCTs, also is a Fargo native.
"North Dakotans are a small bunch, and it's always fun to run into someone from home. But I really wasn't expecting that the OCT commander would be a guy who went to a Fargo High School. It was nice to have that hometown connection when we interviewed him and his guys later," he said.
The 116th PAD will continue to serve in the Baltic region for the next two weeks.