Latvian trio relishes some R&R far from the front lines
The issue caught the attention of the Minnesota Latvian community, which numbers about 2,000. Girts Jatnieks, of the local Latvian welfare organization Daugavas Vanagi, said his members wanted to show the strong bonds between the countries by supporting the soldiers.
Over the next several months, Henry raised about $15,000 through donations, ranging from $5 to $500, to pay for plane flights and expenses. One reader, Peter Palmer, called Henry to offer the use of his cabin in the event she was successful in raising the money. Palmer supplied all the food and fishing gear for the weekend.
"this has been an amazing process that has taught me that ‘Support the Troops’ for many people is more than just a bumper sticker!" Henry wrote on her Web page.
The Latvians flew to Colorado first and visited Pikes Peak and took in a Colorado Rockies game before heading to northern Minnesota for fishing. On Monday, the soldiers (Liebins, Cpl. Martins Dabolins and Sgt. Janis Lakis) and their families got to see the Mall of America.
Harder, whose Afghan mission is over, for now, doesn’t know whether he’ll have to go back, but if he does, he’s ready.
Meanwhile, bringing his comrades home has meant a lot.
"we spent so much crappy time together in a very bad place, we were really looking forward for some free time together," Harder said.
Free time without the searing heat and the threat of incoming rockets, without the fatigue of battle and the stress of war.
Lakis, 36, joined the Latvian military when he was 18. He doesn’t know where he will be stationed next, but like soldiers everywhere, "if my captain says I go, I do what he says."
Lakis, wearing a Minnesota Vikings shirt, said his "best friends supported us in Afghanistan and then here, and even when we maybe have a headache after a couple of beers," he said.
Monday afternoon, a tired Henry had escorted the Latvians through the MOA as they looked for blue jeans. "It’s been so worthwhile," she said. "They really feel like they made new friends, and they really were surprised at how much people support our military here. my only regret is that we couldn’t keep them longer."
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