By Sgt. Michael T. CrawfordJuly 14, 2014
ERGLI, Latvia (July 14, 2014) -- Paratroopers with the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade visited a summer camp for local children near here, Wednesday, offering them a glimpse into U.S. Army life, their equipment, meals and physical readiness training.
Less than 10 kilometers outside of town, the three-and-a-half-day camp offered children an opportunity to venture into the countryside for outdoor activities such as archery, fishing and kayaking. Paratroopers with the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, based at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, joined campers on day three with armor, helmets, load-bearing vests, backpacks and boxes of Meals, Ready-to-Eat.
"This is a place where I invite my friends' kids or others interested in the things I do," said Maris Olte, an explorer, a journalist and a former coach of the Latvian national fishing team. "A friend in the embassy told me there were some good guys who wanted to experience our camp. I'm very, very glad that they (paratroopers) are here."
Approximately 600 paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, are spread throughout Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, to participate in Operation Atlantic Resolve, an unscheduled land-forces exercise to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.
In addition to training with Latvian Soldiers in Adazi, paratroopers interact with their Latvian hosts by participating in various community events around Riga.
"For these kids, it's probably the first and possibly the last time that they'll ever interact with a U.S. Soldier," Staff Sgt. Bret Richardson, an infantryman with the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment. "When we came and met with these children, we really wanted to put our best foot forward and show them that we're here to partner with them and be friends."
The campers had plenty of questions for the paratroopers, asking about everything from their uniforms to their day-to-day routines. Richardson and his fellow paratroopers explained the differences between their jobs and how they support each other, as well as how a typical squad is organized and how Soldiers communicate in the field.
Eventually, the campers' curiosity led them to the subject of war.
"Have any of you ever been shot?" one child asked. "How many people have you killed?"
Accustomed to such questions, Richardson, a native of Panama City, Florida, explained how Soldiers place their priorities elsewhere.
"We don't really try to concentrate on that," said Richardson. "We want to keep our forces safe. That's what we focus on. We want to take everyone we bring with us back home to their families."
Along with blunt curiosity came unrestrained excitement. After having their questions answered, the campers surrounded the paratroopers for a chance to try on different Army equipment. Unable to mask their grins, paratroopers helped each camper suit up and watched as the children competed to see who could do the most pushups in the over-sized gear.
"They get to experience what it is that we endure when we suit up for whatever mission we're going to go on," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Douglas, a native of Johnson City, Tennessee. "It was fun to see them in our equipment; it's a lot of weight."
After seeing how much fun the children had trying to outperform each other while wearing the paratroopers' gear, members of the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, led a brief physical fitness session, demonstrating formation movements, warm-up stretches and cardio exercises. Again, without prompting, it quickly became a competition among the children.
After some preparatory drills, several sprints, hops and lunges across the lawn and more pushups, the campers sat down to try their first ever Meals, Ready-to-Eat.
"When I first opened up the child's main meal, he had the expression of opening that first gift on Christmas," said Richardson. "His eyes got real big, he got excited and he couldn't wait for me to hand it to him."
Olte, the owner and operator of the camp, hopes spending time and having fun with the paratroopers will teach the children how similar people are, no matter where they are in the world.
"Soldiers are human, too," said Olte, a former Soldier and a father of three. "By showing their (Soldiers') personalities -- that they are kind and that they care about families -- it gives another opportunity for the kids to see the world is not as simple as it used to be. Politics are politics, but human issues are most important everywhere."