Latvian National Guard guardsmen are getting ready for duty in the European Union Battlegroup
The Latvian Government approved the National Armed Forces’ units participation in the European Union (EU) Battlegroup on January 29. This will be the first time when the Latvian Zemessardze (National Guard) guardsmen will participate in the EU Battlegroup; the duty will begin in the second half of this year.
Competition for participation in the battlegroup was very fierce. The selection process of potential candidates identified 1,669 guardsmen and approximately 80 guardsmen from seven battalions of the 2nd Zemessardze Region were selected.
Currently more than 70 guardsmen are undergoing an intense training under the guidance of experienced professional service instructors and officers thus improving the basic skills necessary for military service in the British-led EU Battlegroup. At the same time some guardsmen acquire intelligence skills. Engineers’ training is being conducted at the Zemessardze 54th Engineering Battalion. During theoretical lectures and practical exercises under increased physical and psychological work load guardsmen refresh their existing as well as learn new skills. Many of them have previously proven themselves and have gained valuable experience in the Jaunsardze (Youth Guard) and the Zemessardze, and consider joining the Latvian National Armed Forces to become professional soldiers in nearest future.
Candidate’s routine starts early in the morning at 0600 hours with a light morning exercise, then breakfast that is followed by all day long tactical activities. In the evening, the gym is an opportunity to improve the physical condition. Of course, during the intensive training one has to forget about holidays and hobbies since the training continues during weekends as well. Once a week guardsmen participate in a 10 to 15 kilometres tactical foot march with full equipment.
Commentary by the Chief of Latvian Defence Lieutenant General Raimonds Graube
Latvia became involved and has supported the EU Battlegroup project since its early stage. In 2010, we obtained a valuable experience by participating in the Polish-led Battlegroup, together with Germany, Slovenia and Lithuania. Last year it was decided to join the British-led Battlegroup. The battlegroup concept requires that there has to be a leading state that is responsible for providing the core of the group – its commanders, communication systems and logistics support.
We had to take a decision and choose among our National Armed Forces’ units to select the participating soldiers. The decision favouring guardsmen participation in this battlegroup was taken to strengthen and improve the Zemessardze training system thus increasing its professionalism. These guardsmen that represent mainly the 2nd Zemessardze Region are from the Latvian Latgale region; they are volunteer soldiers who, if necessary, are willing to assist other EU countries in various crisis situations after having completed additional military training. 1669 guardsmen were identified as potential candidates for participation in this EU Battlegroup; around 80 of them were selected. I am sure that we have made the right choice; these are highly motivated guardsmen who presently are undergoing an intense training acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills because their past experience and knowledge acquired within the Zemessardze was not sufficient for fulfilling this specific mission.
During the training process, these guardsmen will participate in several military exercises, including the joint exercise in the United Kingdom with the 42 Commando Battalion that is one of three elite battalion-sized units of UK’s amphibious infantry Royal Marines’ 3 Commando Brigade. In case this EU Battlegroup gets activated, 42 Commando will form its core and deploy to an operation theatre along with the Dutch, Latvian, Lithuanian and Swedish Armed Forces’ units. Throughout this training in the United Kingdom our guardsmen will perfect their knowledge and learn to operate as a part of a bigger team.
Captain Edgars Kairišs, the EU Battlegroup’s Latvian Company Commander explained that “the significant attention during the training process is focused on developing guardsmen’ escort and guarding skills which will be our guardsmen main tasks within the area of operations in case the Battlegroup gets activated. Similarly, the guardsmen have an in-depth training in raiding, warfare in densely populated areas, base security as well as in patrolling and convoying principles.”
The candidates have a different level of training; most of them are young people with secondary education who have joined the Zemessardze only shortly before the training and have immediately applied for participation in this Battlegroup. “To equalize their skills, from November to December last year we have carried out guardsmen basic training where they learned the basic knowledge and skills. I think that compared to the beginning of training, presently the unit’s overall level is good. Candidates’ skills and current level is close to that of the guardsmen who have been in the Zemessardze for some time, yet it is not sufficient for professionals they should become within this mission”, said the Company Commander.
Captain Kairišs also stated that: “After finishing with the improvement of guardsmen individual skills, they had a section level training and currently they are undergoing a platoon level tactical training, including tactical shooting training. The next step is the two-month pre-deployment training. The training process will be completed in late April when the company will go to the UK to get a joint training with the British, Lithuanian, Dutch and Swedish soldiers to improve their multinational cooperation skills and brush up the procedures. Still before that the candidates will have to pass a special armed forces’ certification commission.”
Captain Kairišs said he is pleased with guardsmen high motivation and interest in training; he also commended the platoon commanders for being very professional. The training process is provided by instructors from the National Armed Forces’ units, many of them with an experience from international operations.
Latvian Company 2nd Platoon Commander Lieutenant Ervīns Mukāns said he is pleasantly surprised with such a high level of commitment and professional attitude: “Mostly they are young guardsmen, with a high motivation to learn. Being their platoon commander, my task is to prepare these guardsmen in accordance with the requirements, develop their combat training and improve their physical fitness. I pay a special attention to discipline, order and politeness. My priority during guardsmen overall training process is to achieve their primary combat preparedness, mutual respect and politeness. I think that combat training itself does no good if unit members are not willing to cooperate and have no respect for each other. I consider vital to achieve a true cohesion among the soldiers within the unit because this is the only way how to come up with a truly professional unit. It is also essential to improve guardsmen individual skills, especially weapons’ handling; great attention has to be put towards teaching all the safety procedures.”
The European Union Battlegroups are rapidly deployable multinational joint forces; this project dates back to 2004 when the EU Military Committee approved the EU Battlegroup concept. It provides establishing a multinational battlegroup with support elements ready for deployment to an operation theatre within 10 days that is self-sustainable in the theatre of an operation for at least 30 days without additional supplies, and up to 120 days – with getting the additional supply. Each battlegroup consists of approximately 1500 soldiers – battalion-sized units reinforced with combat support units, management and support services. It is the minimum necessary combat unit capable of an independent warfare in the operation area. Latvia has declared its intent to participate in formation of the EU Battlegroups during the Military Capability Commitment Conference on November 22, 2004.
Latvia so far has already participated once in the EU Battlegroup in first half of 2010 with 69 soldiers from the National Armed Forces Military Police platoon, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit, National Support Element and staff personnel. The Latvian soldiers’ next duty in the EU Battlegroup is planned for 2015.
The first Latvian National Armed Forces’ unit predominantly recruited with the Zemessardze guardsmen has participated in an international operation outside Latvia from August 2005 to mid-February 2006 when 22 soldiers and 77 guardsmen from the Latvian contingent BALTSQN-12 served as a part of the Danish Battalion in Kosovo at the NATO-led KFOR international peacekeeping operation in Mitrovica area.Full gallery