LANSING, Mich. – More than 25 public affairs specialists from the Michigan National Guard, Latvian National Armed Forces, and Armed Forces of Liberia teamed up April 12-22 to host a virtual storytelling workshop as part of the Partnership to National Guard Bureau of the Department of Defense Program.
The event was the sixth in a series of storytelling workshops initiated by colleagues from Michigan and Latvia in 2019. After four in-person events in 2019, the series went virtual in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 19. This online environment opens new opportunities for the program in 2022.
“Holding the workshop virtually allowed us to actually welcome our partners from Liberia, and we are so happy to have them join us,” said Master Sgt. Scott Thompson, a public affairs specialist with the 110th Wing, Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, Michigan. “This is one of the first events where Latvia, Liberia and Michigan participated in trilateral cooperation, so it’s kind of a historic occasion for us.”
This workshop, like others in the series, has been designed to be a highly effective professional development opportunity. No high-end video editing equipment was needed; as long as students had a way to save and edit photos – even on a cell phone – the goals could be achieved. Discussion topics included storytelling fundamentals, shot sequencing, interview techniques and other methods for creating and telling a compelling story in a military context.
“I was extremely excited to work with mentors from the Michigan National Guard,” said Lāsma Fūrmane, public affairs specialist with the Latvian Armed Forces. “The recognition of the mentors during the courses was very motivating.”
Michigan, Latvia and Liberia have a long-standing bond under the State Partnership Program. Latvia and Michigan were one of the first three partnerships formed under the SPP in 1993, and they have consistently engaged over the following three decades. A partnership with Liberia was formed in 2010. Recently, the partners have emphasized trilateral cooperation.
“At first I had a hard time leaving my comfort zone, but I overcame it by being friendly with the people I met,” said Staff Sergeant. Tokpha Wellington of the Armed Forces of Liberia. “This workshop gave me a clear understanding of how to use photos to tell a story. I wish the workshop was longer!
The event ended with a practical task to produce a captivating photo story using relevant themes and messages. Opportunities for individual feedback and mentoring helped refine skills during the process.
Thompson says the workshop is an example of how unforeseen circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic have opened up new opportunities for innovation in how partnerships can strengthen preparedness.
“This year, the virtual environment has also allowed us to work with our partners in Liberia, which is proving to be a groundbreaking and rewarding cooperation,” said Thompson. “It is definitely a privilege to get to know our partners better and develop their capabilities in new and exciting ways. We can’t wait to see what the next chapter in our story will bring.