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    “Strategic storytelling:” Latvia-Michigan photography workshop builds military public affairs capability during Summer Shield XVI

    “Strategic storytelling:” Latvia-Michigan photography workshop builds military public affairs capability during Summer Shield XVI

    Photo By Capt. Andrew Layton | Cpl. Edgars Spiridovskis, 19th Combat Support Battalion, Latvian National Guard works...... read more read more



    Story by 1st Lt. Andrew Layton 

    110th Wing

    ĀDAŽI, Latvia – It’s often said that a picture is worth a thousand words.

    By this standard, it would take libraries to equal the storytelling value of images produced by U.S. and Latvian military photographers during a unique mentoring workshop held May 19-24, 2019 at Ādaži Military Base, Latvia.

    The workshop -- which coincided with exercise Summer Shield XVI, a large-scale readiness event held to improve the interoperability of the multinational force -- was made possible by Latvia’s link with the Michigan National Guard under the U.S. National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program.

    “Today, everyone who carries an iPhone can be a ‘photographer,’” said Master Sgt. Scott Thompson, photojournalist, 110th Wing, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Mich. “We wanted to come together to go beyond that by looking at how to produce images that are truly compelling, how to tell a story and communicate the right message with that image, and how to make people truly care about the image they see.”

    Thompson, one of the workshop’s lead mentors, brings over 24 years of experience as an Air National Guard photojournalist to the learning environment. He was the National Guard photographer of the year in 2010 and, as a civilian, runs a high-profile advertising photography/motion company in Chicago.

    Thompson’s counterpart and co-facilitator of the workshop program is Staff Sgt. Gatis Indrevics, since 2014 one of two full-time photographers on Latvia’s combat camera team. He has covered numerous contingency operations and multinational exercises as a military photographer and has also led a diverse career in the Baltic music and film industries.

    According to Indrevics, the genesis of this workshop program stems from an information environment in which the ability of a NATO military force to accurately document and inform publics of its capability and coordination with allies and partners has never been more important.

    “At the beginning of the workshop, I told the participants that photographs are a very powerful military tool, actually more powerful than the tools of a soldier that people usually think of, like a rifle or grenade,” he said. “We have seen throughout history where this has been demonstrated, even to the point where the right photograph can reinforce and secure peace.”

    With a focus on intermediate photography skills, this is the second workshop Thompson and Indrevics have led in a series of exchanges designed to build the capability of Latvian National Guard members assigned as photographers within their respective battalions as an additional duty. The first, held in March, hosted more than a dozen students at Latvia’s Ministry of Defense in Riga, focusing on basic photography skills.

    The workshop program has advanced the Michigan-Latvia public affairs collaboration into new territory; from simply working side-by-side, to building capability together to tell the story of their nations’ close ties in a way that is deeper, more compelling, and more unified.

    “We cannot teach someone to be a photographer because this is a field you must enter into with that passion already in your heart,” Indrevics said. “But a workshop like this is a perfect environment to help guide and mentor new photographers, offer feedback, and learn from one another with plenty of interesting training events happening around us.”

    Following a one-day block of classroom discussion prior to the exercise, Summer Shield XVI was indeed a rich setting for workshop participants to hone their craft in a hands-on environment. Overall, the Alliance-level exercise’s aim was to enhance air-land operational command procedures and advance the capabilities of combat support and combat support service units. Numerous events took place to test the readiness of artillery, reconnaissance, counter weapons of mass destruction, combat engineers, structural engineers, and anti-tank weapons. Summer Shield’s list of participants this year included over 900 military personnel from Albania, Czech Republic, Canada, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, Slovenia, Slovakia, Germany, and the United States.

    Michigan Air National Guard Joint Terminal Attack Controllers from Grayling Aerial Gunnery Range, Mich., also contributed to the the exercise as range control officers alongside Latvian counterparts during the operations uptick at Ādaži’s military training range.

    “This workshop has really been helpful, especially in this setting, because the thing I most enjoy and try to do when shooting for the military is show the perspective of a soldier, so people have a feeling like they are participating in the whole action,” said Pfc. Alexanders Belavskis, combat medic, 36th Combat Support Battalion, Combat Support Company, Latvian National Guard. “I really hope that soldiers who I've captured on my camera, later when seeing the pictures, are encouraged and have a feeling of pride.”

    Like Belavskis, Cpl. Edgars Spiridovskis, signal platoon sgt., 19th Combat Support Battalion, Latvian National Guard, had some prior experience with photography before the workshop but was relatively new to creating content in a military setting. Most of his existing skills were self-taught through online research.

    “This course helps with the opportunity to work with professionals,” Spiridovskis said. “Our mentors give us lots of tips on how to break the ice with people you're photographing, how to build a good composition, how to tell a story with photos, and so on. Basically, this has opened my eyes to the finer details I didn't pay attention to before.”

    Michigan National Guard soldiers who participated in the workshop also gained valuable lessons from the experience of working across cultures to build something with new colleagues in a dynamic environment.

    “The range of expertise and experiences made for a thriving learning environment for everyone involved,” said Spc. Samantha Hall, photojournalist, 126th Press Camp, Michigan National Guard. “Most importantly, the workshop allowed for relationships to be formed over a common love of storytelling, which was fantastic to experience.”

    Thompson and Indrevics have plans to expand the Michigan-Latvia photography program. Their next workshop will be held in August at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, Mich., during exercise Northern Strike 19, with participants already confirmed from Latvia and the National Guard forces of at least four U.S. states. In 2020, they would like to see the workshops expand to include participants from other NATO and partner nations.

    Leveraging the combined talents of photographers from Latvia and the U.S. in this way presents a wide aperture of potential as NATO and partner countries carry on their continuous coordination through multinational exercises and readiness events.

    “By using the skills I’ve gained in this course, I will be able to help raise the morale of the people serving in my unit because they are appreciated and seen,” Spiridovskis said. “This workshop has been very important because I am also able to improve the quality of my unit’s representation and NATO’s representation to the public.”



    Date Taken: 06.08.2019
    Date Posted: 06.08.2019 22:34
    Story ID: 326235
    Location: ADAZI, LV 

    Web Views: 352
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