Latvian Minister of Defense honors U.S. Soldiers during the centennial celebration of the Latvian War for Independence and their Armed Forces
Story by Sgt. Kyle Larsen
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Soldiers, performers and vehicles flow down the streets of Jekabpils, Latvia, in celebration of the 2019 traditional regional military parade of May 4. Citizens and spectators crowded Riga Street with the smell of local food and traditional music filled the cold spring air and the sounds of drums rang off the building tops marking the 100th anniversary of the Latvian War for Independence and their Armed Forces.
"Typically, the 4th of May is very special because it marks the day that Latvia began the fight for its independence," said Dr. Artis Pabriks, Latvia's minister of defense. "This year it is particularly special because it marks the centenary, or 100 years, of the Latvian National Guard."
Pabriks, who is also Latvia's Deputy Prime Minister, stepped to the podium addressing the audience. His first speech was in his native language, which was followed by an English speech where he spoke of the importance this year's ceremony and how it ties to the U.S. Soldiers being recognized.
"We used this ceremony to give thanks to two American Soldiers, who are both stationed on Latvian soil, for dedicating their free time to helping a Latvian citizen in his time of need," said Pabriks.
The crowd gazed at the stage while Pabriks presented two U.S. Soldiers for their heroics that assisted in saving a Latvian man's life. Army Capt. Logan Gorges and Staff Sgt. Stephen Yang, both assigned to Task Force Nightmare North, 3-1 Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, used their medical training and applied lifesaving measures when an elderly Latvian man had a seizure in mid-March.
"I don't believe we were heroes," said Yang, who was raised in Rutherford, New Jersey. "I was performing my moral obligation to perform life saving measures when faced with a medical emergency. I would have done the same if it were anyone. I wasn't seeking any attention, but maybe this will encourage others to help someone who is suffering."
Though Yang believed it was his moral and ethical obligation to provide assistance, the Pabriks Latvia believe they went above and beyond the call of duty, as this marked the first time in recent history that Latvia presented an award to another country's service member during the regional parade.
"This is a unique occurrence for our minister of defense to honor another country's representative during this celebration," said Maj. Mairita Senkevicina, the Latvian public affairs officer for the ministry of defense. "We believe that their actions will encourage others to act in similar situations and not to be afraid to help others when faced with an emergency."
Though Gorges and Yang knew how to handle a medical emergency and stay cool under pressure, they were taken back by the moment of being heralded heroes.
"I don't consider us heroes," said Gorges, who is from Hortonville, Wisconsin. "I like to think that anyone with the same knowledge as us would have stopped to help this gentleman. We were just doing our civic duty. I'm honored and very humbled to have the opportunity to receive such a prestigious honor."