Michigan Guardsman is first U.S. Armed Forces member to receive Latvian Award of Honor

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Denice P. Rankin
  • Michigan National Guard
BATTLE CREEK, Mich. - Thomas Frutos, an Air Force master sergeant assigned to the 217th Air Operations Group based at Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, was recently awarded the Latvian National Armed Forces Air Force Commander Award of Honor, Grade 3.

Col. Aivars Mezors, commander of the Latvian Air Force Aviation Base Lielvarde, awarded the Latvian National Armed Forces Air Force Commander Award of Honor to Frutos in Latvia, April 30.

Frutos has been working with the Latvian National Armed Forces for the past year to assist in drafting and publishing military operating areas and air traffic control assigned airspace.

Latvia and Michigan were among the first three nations and states to be paired in the U.S. Department of Defense sponsored State Partnership Program in 1993. Since then, Michigan and Latvia have participated in numerous military-to-military engagements in Michigan and in various locations around the world. The Latvian and Michigan partnership also earned the milestone of being the first in the program to deploy to a combat zone together.

Frutos is the first U.S. Armed Forces member to receive the Latvian NAF Air Force Commander Award of Honor. The award citation notes the Michigan National Guard and Frutos' support and expertise were "indispensable for the development of a military airfield for reaching joint operational capabilities in NAF Aviation Base Lielvarde and for aviation base personnel training."

Frutos said that the Michigan National Guard leadership made it a priority to assist the U.S. Air Forces Europe and their subordinate commands with air traffic control and airspace management.

"Key individuals who attributed to the success of this year-long venture were Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center Commander Col. Andrew Roberts; the Battle Creek-based Air Operations Group commander Col. Sean Southworth; and several key officers and enlisted members from the CRTC and the AOG," said Frutos. "Without their expertise it would have taken quite a bit longer to achieve what we have done in Latvia during a year's timeline."

Michigan's highest-ranking Air National Guardsman also noted Frutos' accomplishment.

"Master Sgt. Frutos assisted our state partner Latvia to design training airspace to enhance the ability of Latvia to host training exercises in this very strategic area of the world," said Brig. Gen. Leonard Isabelle Jr., the commander of the Michigan Air National Guard. "He has an extensive air-traffic-control background and is an airspace expert in the combat plans division of the Air Operations Group."

Frutos, from Ypsilanti, has served in the Michigan Air National Guard for 17 years in various capacities ranging from air traffic control services in Alpena to airspace management for Michigan and the U.S. Air Forces Europe. As a civilian, Frutos is a Terminal Radar Approach Control supervisor and Federal Aviation Administration employee at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. Along with Michigan's military leadership, Frutos credits his civilian and military experience to the accomplishment of acquiring the military training airspace for the Latvian military.

"The experience gained from performing airspace manager and air traffic control functions from both my civilian and military positions allowed me to help the Latvian National Armed Forces," said Frutos. "The LNAF have never had an air traffic controller or airspace manager within their ranks and the country was in a position where it needed ATCs and military airspace to fulfill NATO and allied forces requirements."

Michigan Air National Guard Lt. Col. Timothy Brock who is serving as the bilateral affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Latvia, said Frutos earned Michigan another milestone as the first U.S. Armed Forces member to receive the Latvian Air Force Commander Award of Honor.

"Master Sgt. Frutos played a crucial role in the development and design of new military air space, for all military users and introduced new capabilities to the Air Operations Center," said Brock. "He coordinated the working agreements between Latvian Civil Aviation Authority, the Air Space Logistics Squadron and the Latvian Air Transport Authority."

Frutos said that a highlight in the mission was to help establish a Latvian Armed Forces' airspace management cell within a military radar facility.

"The biggest step was securing manpower and I was able to assist the Latvian National Armed Forces joint force headquarters to get six personnel allocated to the radar facility to perform airspace management cell duties," said Frutos.

He also helped develop a letter of agreement between the Latvian Civil Aviation Authority and the Latvian military. The agreement allowed for the creation of designated military training airspace. Frutos then developed an operating instruction to provide guidance to an airspace management cell, which directs how to manage the airspace allocated to them.

"Much of this work was accomplished between myself and Maj. Vilnis Metlans who works for the Latvian Armed Forces operations section," said Frutos. "The majority of these things I learned from operating at the Alpena CRTC, which manages a large military airspace complex."

Over the past year, Frutos has been on temporary military duty assignments to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Belgium to accomplish airspace and air traffic control functions.

In addition to traveling to Latvia, he has worked alongside his Latvian airspace management counterpart, Metlans, during Operation Northern Strike, a joint military training exercise held in Northern Michigan for the last few years. This year, the two will have the opportunity to enhance the Latvian's newly learned skills during Northern Strike 2015 scheduled in July and August at Grayling Army Air Field and Alpena CRTC.