ADAZI, Latvia – American paratroopers joined their Latvian allies as they celebrated the Latvian battalion's anniversary alongside friends and family with food, drink and games here July 24.
Paratroopers with 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade and 3rd Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment displayed an armored Humvee and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter for friends and family of the Latvian 2nd Infantry Battalion.
"This is the only day out of the year when I can show my family what I'm doing and where I'm serving," said Latvian Maj. Vents Lapsenbergs, former commander of 2nd Inf. Bn. "It's great that [the Americans] are here. It's a way for kids to see the military. They enjoy climbing on the helicopters - it's something different."
Paratroopers with 1st Sqdn., 91st Cav. Regt., based in Grafenwoehr, Germany, are in Latvia for Operation Atlantic Resolve, an exercise dedicated to demonstrating America’s commitment to NATO obligations and to sustain interoperability with allied forces.
"This is the first time U.S. Soldiers have been here and [they] bring a new tradition: we will celebrate our anniversary with our partners," said Latvian Lt. Col. Maris Gavrilko, commander of 2nd Battalion. "This is not what we usually do, but I'm very glad and pleased that we have the opportunity to share this day with the U.S. Soldiers."
The official celebration for the 12th anniversary began with a military formation, promoting Soldiers and recognizing significant contributions to the battalion. The Soldiers then participated in a series of friendly competitions, including tug-of-war, Humvee push and an athletic competition.
"It's an honor to be invited to their anniversary," said Pfc. Derek Freda, an American paratrooper and native of Phoenix, Arizona. "They really welcome our presence, and they're really nice people. It's a good experience, and I hope I leave the Latvians with a good feeling toward the United States."
Lt. Col. Kyle Reed, commander of 1st. Sqdn., 91st Cav. Regt., sees the invite as a clear sign of those good feelings.
"Word is getting out that we're here to help and we're here to create an environment where we're going to be here when you call for us," said Reed, a native of Reidsville, North Carolina. “[The Latvians] are eager to get out and train with us, and they really want to experience things with the U.S. military."
As the competitions wound down, the smell of barbecue drew participants and spectators towards a second, less formal ceremony. Gavrilko presented the iconic battle axe of the 2nd Inf. Bn. to the American paratroopers as a symbol of friendship.
"We're not meeting each other in a big exercise - this is a daily routine with U.S. and Latvian Soldiers waking up in the morning and doing daily training," said Gavrilko, a native of Balvi, Latvia. "To share the tactics and the principles of how you operate is important, but most important is to establish relationships, common trust and understanding in each other. I hope my Soldiers build friendships with the U.S. Soldiers and share their experience."
The American commander seconded his sentiments.
"The exposure, the experience, the friendships that are being developed here are truly amazing," Reed said. "In the grand scheme of all of this, it is about bolstering the NATO alliance. All of us working together creates a stronger defense, whether it's here in the Baltics, in Europe or Africa. Everybody working together achieves greater results than just one military."
||PHOENIX, AZ, US
||REIDSVILLE, NC, US
This work, Latvian, US Soldiers celebrate local military history, by SSG Michael Crawford, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.