LANSING, Mich. — In November, Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Vadnais, the adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and director of the Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs was awarded the Order of Viesturs Second Class, from Latvian President Andris Bērziņš, at a ceremony in Riga, Latvia.

Latvia has been Michigan’s partner in the Departments of State and Defense and National Guard Bureau sponsored State Partnership Program since 1993 when Latvia began their transition to a citizen-based military after years of Soviet occupation and no national military establishment.

The Order of Viesturs award was established in 1938 in commemoration of ancient Latvian military might and was reinstated in 2004 after Latvia’s accession to NATO. The motto for the order translates in English to “Be Strong in Battle!” Bērziņš presented the award to Vadnais for his leadership in bilateral military cooperation between the United States and Latvia and in recognition of Michigan National Guard support in strengthening Latvian Defense Force capabilities.

“This award belongs to our Soldiers and Airmen who have done the heavy lifting for the past 22 years. It means so much that I would be considered for this award,” said Vadnais. “Latvia has become a home away from home and the Latvians are a second family to me and the Michigan National Guard.”

While in Latvia, Vadnais and other senior leaders participated in a ribbon cutting ceremony for an advanced joint terminal attack controller training system. According to Senior Master Sgt. Jeffrey Matheney, a JTAC assigned to the Grayling, Mich., based Air Gunnery Range, the Joint Terminal Attack Controller Simulator has multiple computers that run JTAC scenarios such as rotary and fixed wing close-air support, artillery-fire support and naval gunfire training. The scenarios are effective to help the JTAC learn in any given situation, how to communicate to pilots in the aircraft in a real-world event.

“The simulator allows JTAC to rehearse before going in the field or to prep for their advanced training. It can also count for required training currencies in a time when actual air sorties [flying missions] are limited,” said Matheney. “The system trains JTACs on tactics, techniques and procedures necessary in multiple combat situations.”

For more than two decades, the Michigan National Guard and the Latvian Defense Force have trained together. Between November 2008 and December 2010, Michigan and Latvian National Guard members became the first in the SPP program to deploy as an operational mentor and liaison team. The team served three nine-month tours in the mountains of Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

To enhance the Latvian’s ability to direct close air support and indirect fire, it was proposed that they develop joint terminal attack controller capabilities to ensure the OMLT had the required technical and communication expertise needed. Air Force Col. Andrew Roberts, the commander of the Michigan National Guard Grayling Air Gunnery Range in 2008, stated that Michigan led in the development of the training initiative.

“Latvia was the first nation to join the JTAC training program with literally non existing Air Force capability,” said Roberts, who now serves as the commander at Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, in Alpena, Mich.

Heavy emphasis was put on the JTAC program and the Latvian program received full certification in 2010. To date, many Latvians Defense Force members are U.S., JTAC certified by Michigan Guardsmen assigned to the Alpena, Combat Readiness Training Center.

Since 1993, troops from the Michigan National Guard and Latvia have participated in many military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals. Michigan and Latvian leaders, Soldiers and Airmen visit and train in the U.S., and Latvia as committed partnership participants. The JTAC training that began in 2008 is continuing to materialize and strengthen both countries’ wartime capability.

Story by Master Sgt. Denice Rankin, JFHQ/MIANG Public Affairs Specialist