DAUGAVPILS, LATVIA -- The day’s activities started out with the Marines and Latvian service members introducing themselves to the children with whom they would be spending the day with and exchanging names to help everyone feel more comfortable with one another. The children and service members also performed a fun team-building ‘trust-fall’ exercise to improve the mutual understanding and confidence between the children and the adults.
“We partnered one Marine with two of their Latvian counterparts and split them all up into groups with two to three kids to help assist with breaking the language barrier,” said Latvian Pvt. Nils Students, a Latvian National Guardsmen and primary organizer of the ‘Big Brother’ style event. “The kids study English in school, and at events like this, they get to use a lot of that English.”
The day also consisted of a visit to a ceramics pottery factory, lunch at a local restaurant and an outdoor, "Tarzan" rope-obstacle course.
“While other kids are probably in summer camps or spending time with their parents, we can, at least for one day, give them a little bit of fun,” said Students. “We see what the local community has to offer as far as entertainment and educational things, and since Daugavpils is known for its ceramics, we started the day at a ceramic pottery place. The kids got to do some projects and get their hands dirty.”
After spending half a day together, the children and Marines enjoyed a lunch at one of the local restaurants. Sitting down and eating together allowed the children to open up to their ‘Big Brother’ counterparts and get ready for the rest of the day, which included a visit to a Tarzan outdoor obstacle course.
“The kids were really shy at first, but after spending time with them and playing some games with them, they really opened up,” said Sgt. Greg Schaefer, a civil affairs specialist with 2nd Civil Affairs Group. “It was fun watching them play together and tackling the obstacles.”
After a few hours of climbing over hurdles, up ladders, and around trees, the group sat down together to share some traditional Marine Corps cuisine: Meals Ready to Eat (MRE’s).
All parties involved benefited from the bonds created and friendships made between them, mirroring the bigger-picture bonds that NATO Allies are able to accomplish during Saber Strike 18.
“This has been really good for the children and for us,” said Latvian Pvt. Ruta Surovcova, a Latvian Zemessardre participant. “We have enjoyed spending time with the children today.”
“Being able to help them, having seen those laughs and smiles, is something I will definitely take with me,” said Schaefer. “I am very thankful for how cooperative the Latvian government and their military has been. Had we not been wearing different uniforms, it would have felt like we were brothers and sisters in the same military.”
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