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U.S., Latvian TACPs sharpen special ops skills

Latvian Capt. Armands Rutkis (left) and Cpl. Janis Gabranis (right), both tactical air control party specialists with the Latvian National Armed Forces, carry Senior Airman Lance A. Liggett to a medical evacuation point after a simulated roadside bomb explosion at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. Northern Strike was a 3-week-long exercise led by the (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Latvian Capt. Armands Rutkis (left) and Cpl. Janis Gabranis (right), both tactical air control party specialists with the Latvian National Armed Forces, carry Senior Airman Lance A. Liggett to a medical evacuation point after a simulated roadside bomb explosion at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. Northern Strike was a 3-week-long exercise led by the (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Tactical air control party specialists with the Latvian National Armed Forces advance on enemy forces while a TACP with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron provides cover fire after an ambush during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. Northern Strike was a 3-week-long exercise led by the National Guard that demonstrated the combined power of joint and multinational air and ground forces. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Tactical air control party specialists with the Latvian National Armed Forces advance on enemy forces while a TACP with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron provides cover fire after an ambush during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. Northern Strike was a 3-week-long exercise led by the National Guard that demonstrated the combined power of joint and multinational air and ground forces. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Master Sgt. John M. Oliver, (from left) Tactical Air Control Party specialist with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, Latvian 1st Sgt. Modris Circenis and Cpl. Janis Gabranis, TACPs with the Latvian National Armed Forces, make a plan to advance on an enemy position during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Master Sgt. John M. Oliver, (from left) Tactical Air Control Party specialist with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, Latvian 1st Sgt. Modris Circenis and Cpl. Janis Gabranis, TACPs with the Latvian National Armed Forces, make a plan to advance on an enemy position during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Master Sgt. John M. Oliver (left), Tactical Air Control Party specialist with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, and Latvian 1st Sgt. Modris Circenis, TACP with the Latvian National Armed Forces, communicate with a team flanking an enemy position during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

Master Sgt. John M. Oliver (left), Tactical Air Control Party specialist with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron, and Latvian 1st Sgt. Modris Circenis, TACP with the Latvian National Armed Forces, communicate with a team flanking an enemy position during a reconnaissance mission at Operation Northern Strike in Grayling Air Gunnery Range, Grayling, Mich., Aug. 14, 2014. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer)

GRAYLING, Mich. (AFNS) -- Tactical air control party specialists with the 169th Air Support Operations Squadron and the Latvian military joined forces August 2014 to sharpen their special operations skills at the 3rd-annual Operation Northern Strike in Grayling, Michigan.

The exercise brought the TACPs to one of the largest, most comprehensive training centers in the nation to fight as one team against insurgents while directing close-air support from the skies above them.

Air Force Master Sgt. John Oliver, a TACP with the 169th ASOS in Peoria, Illinois, had a front-row seat to the multinational unit in action. He served as the team leader for a squad of American and Latvian TACPs during a reconnaissance mission that pitted the team against enemy ambushes, explosions and small-arms gunfire.

"The training was very good. It was intense at times, which allowed for pretty realistic combat scenarios for us to run through," he said.

Oliver already knew several of the Latvian TACPs from working with them in Poland, and he was glad to be in the field with them again.

"It was good to see them, good to work with them. They've got a really good (joint terminal attack controller) program, and they're squared away," he said.

Just as some of the Latvian TACPs knew the Peoria Airmen, they were also were no strangers to the state of Michigan.

The Latvians began their TACP training at the Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center because Michigan is Latvia's colleague in the National Guard's State Partnership Program, said Capt. Armands Rutkis, a TACP with the Latvian National Armed Forces.

Rutkis is a 2.5-year veteran of the Latvian TACP program, which only began in 2009. He said he enjoys the job because he can work in a tactical environment even as an officer handling leadership-level tasks.

"You need to be always good at your training and getting information, and how to use the information working with all assets to support your ground-force commander," Rutkis said. "So, a lot of knowledge and that's challenging, and it's challenging for yourself."

Rutkis appreciated the benefits of working with the Illinois Air National Guardsmen, including being able to share their understandings of procedures and tactics.

"Working with multinational forces, you can get all of this knowledge from them, because everyone has in their nation a different approach of things how to do that," he said. "I mean, we're following the same tactics, techniques and procedures, but still there's some different ways how to approach things."

Senior Airman Ryan Godar, a TACP with the 169th ASOS, said he enjoyed working with the Latvians for the same reason.

"It's nice to see how other countries operate. You pick up on some of the things that they do that you like, that you think are a little bit smarter. And the same thing for them," he said. "So it's kind of like a way to share different tactics from other countries and learn from what they're doing and pick out the things you like."

Northern Strike was a National Guard-sponsored exercise that practiced the combined power of air and ground forces Aug. 4 through 22, 2014. The goal of the three-week event was to provide cost-effective and realistic combat training in a joint-service and multinational environment. TACPs with the Illinois Air National Guard's 169th ASOS in Peoria and more than 5,000 other service members from 12 states and two coalition nations took part in the exercise.

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