In 1993, a partnership began that has grown and continues to grow between the Michigan Air National Guard and the Latvian Armed Forces. It's a connection that has gone beyond the military level and has grown to include very personal experiences for individuals and groups between our state and the Baltic country.

Along with the 25 year anniversary celebration of the connections between Michigan & Latvia, the country is also marking another anniversary in 2018. 100 years ago, on November 18, 1918, Latvia declared independence after much of the territory had been devastated during World War I. But it was a struggle to maintain independence, especially during World War II between Nazi and Soviet occupations. In August of 1991, Latvia was again liberated when the Soviet Union fell. Two years later, the beginning of the relationship with Michigan's Air National Guard commenced.

Members of the Michigan National Guard with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis, June 2018. (Courtesy Andrew Layton)

Part of the reason Michigan was chosen was based on the large Latvian community in many parts of the state, including Battle Creek and Kalamazoo. Most of them were immigrants and refugees who came here to flee Soviet occupation. This was the first National Guard from a U.S. state to form a partnership with a nation in this way and since then, over 70 similar partnerships between states in the U.S. and foreign countries have been formed.

The Michigan/Latvian partnership has evolved from a military strategy to include several other collaborations and future partnerships may eventually include some of other Baltic nations. Earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder visited Latvia and during his time there, they named a street after Michigan, believed to be the only "Michigan Avenue" located outside of the United States.

Governor Rick Snyder during visit to Latvia and "Michigan Avenue" street naming dedication (Courtesy Andrew Layton)

Michigan ANG Public Relations Officer Andrew Layton, along with former President of the American Latvian Association Janis Kukainis, an American who was born in Latvia, sat down for an exclusive interview to talk about the rich history of the Latvian country and the strong connection with Michigan.