By Sgt. Lee Elder, 118th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Tennessee Army National GuardOctober 27, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany - They wear three different uniforms, speak three different languages and represent three different nations, but they are training here at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center for the same purpose.
Citizen-Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard are teaming with soldiers from Latvia and Afghanistan for a nine-month tour in Afghanistan. They are here in the final stages of their training as they prepare to launch the mission next month.
This mission is a first for Latvia, one of the three Baltic States captured by the former Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II. Since regaining its independence, Latvia has been training alongside Guard Soldiers from the Wolverine State in the Partnership for Peace, which pairs former Warsaw Pact nations with National Guard units from states across the USA.
"We're the first in the chute," said Master Sgt. David Schneider, a Michigan National Guard Soldier who is a member of Michigan's Joint Forces Headquarters. "There will be some growing pains, but I think we're going to do just fine."
Schneider is one of 11 Wolverine State Guard Soldiers joining the 32 Latvian solders, each wearing patches with the "OMLT Lynx" on their shoulder. They will team with Afghan soldiers to help train the Afghans to take more of a leading role in defending their nation.
It's the first "large scale deployment" of Latvian soldiers to the region, Schneider said. Similar missions will be launched in the future with other states and their eastern European allies.
On this cold and windy Sunday afternoon, the soldiers are in "the box" on a simulated combat patrol. It's part of a situational training exercise that is designed to test their knowledge and demonstrate their teamwork.
Each nation began training in its homeland. The Michigan citizen-soldiers have been living and training in Latvia since June while the Latvians began their preparations in January. Here is where they put it all together prior to their deployment.
"We do it here and then we go right into theater," Schneider said. "We don't lose any of our momentum this way."
Despite their diverse make up, the team tackles the scenario well. A roadside bomb has disabled one of the vehicles making up a supply convoy. The convoy itself then comes under sniper fire.
The Latvians quickly tend to their casualties. They skillfully make their way through the wood line to capture the opposing force that is firing on them. The opposing forces scatter and they bring back a simulated casualty while an Afghan soldier searches him for important documents.
One of the leaders of the Latvian forces is Capt. Druvis Kleins. An Infantry Officer by trade, he is a 15-year veteran who has attended Infantry Officer and Special Forces training courses in the USA.
"This is a very good team," Kleins said. "We have good experience, and it's the best team I've seen for the 15 years I have been in the Army."
Kleins said this mission has attracted a great deal of interest in Latvia. Consequently, each member of the team has been specially chosen for his or her special skills and experience.
The Latvian team members have also received instruction in both the English and Dari languages. Kleins said he has one team member who is already fluent in Dari, which is spoken by the Afghan team members.
"It's an important mission for us," Kleins said. "We have been collected throughout our entire Army."
The time in Hohenfels has been good for his soldiers, Kleins said. It has helped reinforce much of the training they have already received in their base near the nation's capitol of Riga.
"This is our final training phase," Kleins said. "We are just making corrections so that we are ready to go."
Also praising the training in Hohenfels is Kleins' counterpart, Afghan National Army 1st Lt. Obaidullah. He is a mortarman who serves as an Infantry officer in the ANA. "The training is great," Obaidullah said through an interpreter. "By doing this kind of training, we better understand our mistakes and can correct them and do our jobs perfectly."
Obaidullah's second in command is his top noncommissioned officer, 1st Sgt. Aimal. He had just finished a scenario where his commander was a simulated casualty and he took command of the Afghan forces.
Aimal said his soldiers' morale was high. They enjoyed the fast-paced, realistic training at the JMRC.
"They are very, very pleased," Aimal said. "They are learning something new and they are very excited."