By Sgt. Michael Crawford, 354th Mobile Public Affairs DetachmentJuly 31, 2014
AUGSTKALNE, Latvia - Paratroopers with the 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade, participated in a two-day competition of skill, speed and strength with the Latvian National Guard, July 19.
The Latvian National Guard's annual sports competition began with a parade featuring several companies of Latvian and American Soldiers.
"They've been great hosts for us," said Spc. Alexander Whitehurst, a Brooklyn, New York, native. "I think us working together like this is a great way to help build our partnership."
Standing among Latvian soldiers, their families and other members of the local community, paratroopers received a warm welcome from the Latvian National Guard.
"It was a surreal moment," said Spc. Reginald Davis, a supply specialist with Troop C, 1-91st Cav. Regt. "It's a great experience to know we're welcome over here. They appreciate us being here training with them and building a partnership."
Paratroopers joined their Latvian allies in order to form teams to participate in competitions throughout the day, such as half-court basketball, marksmanship, obstacle course relays, orienteering courses and strongman events.
For Davis, who played half-court basketball, it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
"I love meeting new people," said Davis, a native of Montgomery, Alabama. "I love interacting and learning new cultures. To be able to interact with the Latvians and see how they do things is fun, regardless of language barriers between us."
As the paratroopers began to plan, strategize and otherwise mingle, the language barrier appeared to become a minor inconvenience as they began to connect on and off the playing field.
"It gives us confidence when we work together with our counterparts," said Davis. "It helps us know that they understand us. We can work together without it being any kind of confrontation. When the mission takes place, we understand each other and know how each other works."
Capt. Jonathan Patten, commander for Troop C, sees events like the sports competition as the perfect element to improve interoperability between the two armies.
"Hopefully this provides a kind of relaxing fun atmosphere where people can talk to each other and get to know each other," said Patten. "We're going to rely on each other for a lot of different things. Even if our guys aren't working specifically with the people we've met here, you can still say 'I've been to Latvia before and I've met a lot of great people.' It gives us that subconscious comfort moving forward."
After the competitive events ended, paratroopers and Latvian soldiers spent the night at a nearby campsite celebrating their performances, sharing stories and talking about sports.
The American paratroopers are scheduled to conduct multiple joint airborne and air assault missions alongside the Latvian army here in Kadaga.
They are part of the approximately 600 paratroopers from the brigade are in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve to demonstrate commitment to NATO obligations and sustain interoperability with allied forces.