Friday, June 4, 2021

The Georgia National Guard in Latvia: A Look Back at Operation Summer Shield VIII, 2011

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

ADAZI, Latvia, May 28, 2011 – A Latvian Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol augmented by Soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry,
Georgia Army National Guard, conduct a stream crossing during culminating exercises as part of joint U.S./Latvian training for Operation Summer Shield.
Photo by Capt. Carl Anderson.

ADAZI, Latvia, June 4, 2011 – Twenty-five Soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, led by the 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, and supplemented with additional skilled Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry, and 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry, completed a two-week training mission in Latvia supporting Operation Summer Shield VIII – an annual joint U.S.-Latvian training exercise. The purpose of the exercise was to increase essential operational capabilities of Latvian company-sized maneuver units and enhance and sustain expertise among the Latvian Armed Forces in capabilities needed for operations in Afghanistan.

“I enjoyed working and training with the Latvian Army – so much so, in fact, that I joked about joining them,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Hern, a reconnaissance mentor with the 1-121st Infantry.

ADAZI, Latvia, May 27, 2011 – Latvian Army Reconnaissance Teams conduct fast rope insertion rehearsals with mentors from the Georgia Army National Guard.
Captain Carl Anderson, 2-121; Staff Sgt. Billy Massingale and Staff Sgt. Ryan Hern, 1-121 conducted the rehearsals  in support of the final five-day field exercise.  
Photo by Capt. Carl Anderson.

Over the course of the exercise, the Georgia mentors trained nearly 200 Latvian Soldiers in the military decision-making process, tactical operation center operations, fusion cell/targeting procedures, intelligence preparation of the battlefield, mortar and machine gun theory, sniper implementation, long range reconnaissance, and call for fire.[1] While embedded with their mentoring sections, the Citizen Soldiers provided two days of classroom and field instruction followed by three days of mission receipt and planning. The final phase of Operation Summer Shield was a five-day mission to test the capabilities of the long-range reconnaissance and sniper teams along with the battle tracking skills of the Latvian headquarters section.

ADAZI, Latvia, May 24, 2011 – Latvian sniper teams practice range estimation and target acquisition under the watchful eyes of their U.S. mentors
– Staff Sgt. Michael Childers of Company C, 2-121st Infantry, and Staff Sgt. Benjamin Serapion, a squad leader with company B, 1-121st Infantry.
Photo by 1st Lt. William Carraway
“In the scenario, long range reconnaissance patrol teams were inserted by helicopter as far as 50 kilometers from their surveillance objectives,” said Capt. Brian Cardinali, commander of Headquarters Company, 2-121 who provided personnel for the exercise. “Augmented by sniper teams, the reconnaissance elements maneuvered to their objectives, reported intelligence to the TOC, conducted actions on the objectives, and successfully exfiltrated without being compromised.” 

A Latvian LRRP team and Georgia Army National Guard mentor, 1st Lt. William Carraway of Headquarters Company, 2-121 Infantry following
extraction at the end of a five-day field training exercise. Photo courtesy of Latvia Public Affairs.
The LRRP mentors accompanied Latvian teams on maneuvers through rugged terrain crossing rivers and negotiated heavily wooded terrain in the sweltering heat. Moving by night and bivouacking in swamps by day to avoid detection, the teams surveilled military targets reporting intelligence without being compromised and conducted link up with friendly forces for extraction.

ADAZI, Latvia, June 1, 2011 – Latvian machine gun teams engage targets during live fire exercises at Kurgens Range in the concluding phase
of joint U.S./Latvian training for Operation Summer Shield. Range operations were supervised by Staff Sgt. Bruce Giddens, Staff Sgt. Andrew Huffman and Sgt. Hans Welliver
 of the Georgia National Guard's 2-121 Infantry. Photo courtesy of Latvian Army Public Affairs Office

In coordination with these field maneuvers, the Latvian composite battalion staff used collected reconnaissance reports along with scenario-driven intelligence to put the staff through the MDMP process with a full battalion operations order production for future operations. The event culminated with multiple live-fire exercises involving mortars, snipers, and machine gun fire.

ADAZI, Latvia, June 1, 2011 – Specialist John Pickana of Company C, 2-121 Infantry, Georgia Army National Guard, mentors 
a Latvian Army mortar team during  Operation Summer Shield. Photo Courtesy of the Latvian Army Public Affairs Office.

Prior to 2011, the Michigan National Guard had been the U.S. proponent for the exercise; however, due to deployment commitments in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, the Michigan Guard looked to the state of Georgia for assistance.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time that Guard units from one state have stepped in to assist another state in completing its overseas mission requirements,” said Lt. Col. Eric Pless, bilateral affairs officer for U.S. European Command, Latvia.

“Not only were Georgia’s actions unprecedented, the level of training they’ve provided to the Latvian Army has been as well,” said Maj. Vents Lapsenbergs, commander of the 2nd Latvian Battalion. “Our officers [battalion and brigade staff] received a far higher level of training in the past two weeks than in their entire service academy experience.”

Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers tour the 13th century Turaida Castle overlooking the Gauja River in Sigulda, Latvia. Photo by 1st Lt. William Carraway

As the training concluded, the Latvian Army treated their new friends from Georgia to the splendor of Riga, Latvia’s capital city. The Soldiers toured the 13th century castle of Turaida, visited the Soviet occupation museum, and joined their Latvian counterparts for an open fire cookout in the statue park of Sigulda. Additionally, some Soldiers were able to participate in the Riga Marathon, which took place along the cobblestone streets of downtown Riga.

Georgia National Guard Soldiers visit the town square in Latvia's capital city of Riga and the 14th century House of the Blackheads which served as headquarters
for a guild of merchants and ship builders. Photo by 1st Lt. William Carraway 

During closing ceremonies, the U.S. and Latvian Soldiers exchanged gifts. Lieutenant Col. Alan Alexander and Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel McCord, command team of the 2-121, presented key Latvian leaders with tomahawks – symbols of the Warrior Battalion. The Georgia Soldiers were in turn presented certificates of appreciation and coins from the Land Force Infantry Brigade, 1st Latvian Battalion, commanded by Major Velts Āboliņš.

“We stand ready to assist (the Latvian Army) with any future training requests, said Alexander during closing ceremonies. “And we would be honored to be called to train again alongside these fine Soldiers.” 

[1] William Carraway. “Georgia Guard mentors Latvian Army in Operation Summer Shield” June 10, 2011. Retrieved from


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