By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs
Ottawa, Ontario — Canada’s military presence in Latvia, where troops are supporting NATO deterrence efforts in Eastern Europe, is a relatively recent development. However, the two nations enjoy a number of much older, and very deep, connections.
Lieutenant-Colonel Agris Ozoliņš, Latvia’s Defence, Military, Naval and Air Attaché in Canada, was seeking a way to celebrate those connections and say thank you to Canadians for their support past and present. Canada Army Run (CAR), he realized, would be the perfect venue.
A team of five Latvian soldiers will be in Ottawa to participate in this year’s event and, in the following interview, LCol Ozoliņš shares the message they wish to impart, discusses what we have in common (a national obsession with hockey being just one thing), and explains why Latvians are so grateful to Canada.
How did you arrive at the idea of having Latvian troops participate in CAR?
I had an idea that it might be something where we can be together, shoulder to shoulder, as Canadian troops are shoulder to shoulder with us in Latvia. And it’s also an opportunity to say thank you to Canadian citizens who support that. I met with the families of troops in Edmonton who were heading to Latvia. It was a touching moment, like always when troops leave for deployment, and I saw a lot of support from the families. And this is the best way to say thank you because my soldiers cannot address each Canadian separately. And of course it’s also an appreciation of the military – what Canada does for European security – and not only the Baltics. There are tens of thousands of people running and we will run together and talk about Latvia and our partnership and say thank you to as many people as possible.
Who are the runners representing Latvia?
We picked runners from different branches and services. The lead officer is a captain who works in public affairs at the Ministry of Defence. We have runners from the Army, our Military Police, our National Guard, and also a runner from our cadet corps, which is called Jaunsardze in Latvia. One female, four male soldiers, which roughly represents the proportion of females in the Latvian military. This time we put out a call for the best people available. The initial thinking for future Army Runs is a competition. Once a year we have championships in different sports – like a sports festival where we come together and compete. Those with the best results will be approached to come.
What are some of the most popular sports among Latvians?
Ice hockey is definitely Number 1 in Latvia same as Canada. It unites us. Mountain biking competitions are very popular. Basketball is quite popular as well. Then soccer. Beach volleyball is very popular, even though we are very far away from Brazil. We’ve done very well in a couple of Olympic Games.
You’ll be visiting the Canadian War Museum as well. What do you expect from that?
One is an educational thing. Each country looks on history from its own perspective. It’s always interesting to learn something new – that the world is bigger and there are events which influence the future, even if we don’t have complete knowledge of them. The other is we want to honour the people who sacrifice their lives. Soldiers are soldiers. They do their job to the best of their ability and sometimes make the ultimate sacrifice.
What else unites Latvia and Canada?
We feel very close with Canada. I don’t know if that’s just the ice hockey or that a lot of Latvians found a home in Canada. One of our former presidents, Vaira Vike-Freiberga [the first woman to lead a post-communist nation in Eastern Europe], came to Canada as a child at the end of World War Two with her parents. She grew up in Canada and came back to Latvia and became president. Also, Canada was amazing when we started to build our army. Canada was the first country that supported Latvia joining NATO in March 2003. I remember that time. We were getting support when it was needed the most. And now we’re in harder times with the annexation of Crimea and what’s happened in Eastern Ukraine. Canada’s support is still very much appreciated.
Article / August 25, 2017 / Project number: 17-0255