U.S. and Estonian service members meet with Latvian high school students

U.S. and Estonian service members meet with Latvian high school students

United States Marines, Latvian soldiers and an Estonian service member take questions from a class at Lejasciems Secondary School in Lejasciems, Latvia, April 9, 2014. The service members were invited to the school during Summer Shield to speak with children at the school about their experiences in the military, and to answer any other questions they had. Photo by LCpl Scott Whiting.

CAMP ADAZI, Latvia (April 12, 2014) - United States Marines with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division assigned to Black Sea Rotational Force 14, are currently in Latvia training with the local army for exercise Summer Shield along with Estonian and Lithuanian service members, but they were able to make a special trip to a small school in the rural Latvian countryside to meet the students there.

Latvian LtCol Gunars Kaulins, the commanding officer of Combat Support Battalion of the Latvian Armed Forces Infantry Brigade, reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Latvia and expressed a need for funding the Lejasciems Secondary School required. With the funding nearing its approval, the school wanted to thank Americans for the help they received in improving the building.

"The school wanted to say thank you to U.S. representatives, and because we are having the Summer Shield exercise with Estonians, we figured this would be a great occasion to meet U.S. troops who are visiting Latvia," Kaulins said. 

The Marines were able to eat at the school's cafeteria, tour the facilities and meet students in the high school. There was a question and answer period where the students asked the U.S. and Estonian service members anything and everything.

Kaulins said the students loved the opportunity to speak with United States citizens and to learn about the military from them.

"Everyone who was at the meeting was so excited and very appreciative," Kaulins said.

The Marines took just as much away from the visit as the Latvian students did.

"It was a very opening experience for me," said Cpl Joseph Thometz, an electrician with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines assigned to BSRF-14. "I knew very little about Latvia, and I feel like I learned a something about the culture after visiting the school."

Thometz said he found the questions intelligent and challenging, and made for a more enjoyable experience.

"They spoke great English and were able to ask us some tough questions about the military," Thometz said. 

He, along with the other service members, enjoyed the unique opportunity to build a relationship with the people of Latvia and give them a good first impression of Americans.

"Many of them haven't met anyone from the United States before, so we had to set the example for them," Thometz said.

Kaulins expressed his gratitude after the successful meeting. He explained the school currently has only approximately 150 Latvians enrolled from the surrounding area, but many graduates of the secondary school enlist or commission into the Latvian army. Kaulins hopes the visit from U.S. Marines can help some students decide about joining the service if they were on the fence about it. 

"These students are like Americans," he said. "They want to travel and see the world. You, as Americans, joined your military and now are in Latvia. They want to do the same thing and go see other countries, such as the United States."

Kaulins also said after this event, he'd welcome more visits like this in the future. He explained the students got a lot out of meeting U.S. service members, and he'd like to extend that unique opportunity to multiple schools in the country.

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