Four members of a Civil Affairs Team of the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), 95th Civil Affairs Brigade, engaged in a mission readiness exercise with members of the Estonian Society of Central Florida (Kesk Florida Eesti Selts) and the Estonian Honorary Consul in St. Petersburg, Florida, from May 9-13, 2016. A mission readiness exercise engages members of a civil affairs team with diaspora community leaders to learn more about the ethnic experience of the diaspora community and to learn and practice cultural sensitivities. This is the second time a civil affairs team assigned to Estonia has worked with the Estonian Honorary Consul in St. Petersburg (FL) and the Estonian Society of Central Florida on a mission readiness exercise.
The program this year, coordinated by Estonian Society of Central Florida (Kesk Florida Eesti Selts) Board member Anneliis Kuusik, was based on the model developed by Estonian Honorary Consul Lisa A. Mets for a Civil Affairs Team that visited in June 2015. The model was designed to introduce civil affairs teams to Estonian and Estonian-American perspectives through multiple generations that live in Tampa Bay and return often to their beloved Eesti: those born in Estonia before World War II, those who were refugees with experience in displaced persons camps, first generation Estonian-Americans whose lives have been committed to preserving Estonia’s sovereignty, and those who were children in Estonia when Estonia regained independence in 1991.
The mission readiness exercise began on Tuesday with a program led by Honorary Consul Lisa A. Mets at the Estonian Honorary Consulate at Eckerd College. A whirlwind orientation program covered Estonian geography, demographics, history with an emphasis on the period from 1918 to 1991, government, economy, Estonia’s place in international rankings today, language, educational system, cultural aspects (sports, music, art, and literature), and eEstonia. A second presentation by Jüri Toomepuu focused on his paper, “Estonia, a NATO ally in peril.” Both sessions included good conversation responding to the team’s questions about Estonia. Additional Estonian participants included Anneliis Kuusik, Tõnu Toomepuu, Erkki Taada, and Jaan and Maare Kuuskvere. To introduce the Civil Affairs Team to Estonian cuisine, refreshments included traditional Estonian kilu, lõhekala, and sink ja vorstivõilevad, kohupiima kook and Kalev šhokolaad.
In response to the team’s request, a language immersion program was offered Wednesday afternoon at the home of Steve and Kaie Põhi Latterner. Before class, a traditional Estonian smorgasbord (külm laud) was offered for lunch to introduce the team to these Estonian traditional tastes: rosolje, kartulisalat, rukki leib, skumbria, kurgi salat, seene salat, täidetud muna, sült, pasteet, õuna kook, and Vana Tallinn jäätisega. Having heard Estonian is a difficult language to learn, Kaie and her colleagues (Linia Elmend, Anneliis Kuusik, Kersti Linask, and Erkki Taada) demystified the language and made language learning a fun experience. After learning the Estonian birthday song, “Ta Elagu!” the program concluded with the singing of the Estonian national anthem.
The mission readiness exercise concluded Thursday evening at the home of Kersti Linask, President of the Estonian Society of Central Florida. Triin Karr, a member of the KFES Board, joined the group to provide her perspectives on what it was like to grow up in Estonia, experience reindependence as a young girl in 1991, and to see the progress Estonia has been making for more than two decades now. Triin and her American husband Edward have two children, both growing up in Tampa Bay bilingual in English and Estonian. The final meal of the program was a traditional Estonian Christmas dinner: verivorst, suitsetatud sink, röstitud kartulid, hapu kapsad, rukki leib, jõhvika moos, roosamanna, piparkoogid and sea kõrvad. A highlight of the closing dinner celebration was a presentation of plaques by the Civil Affairs Team to the Estonian Society of CentralFlorida and the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Estonia.
As the Civil Affairs Team did last year, this team asked permission to recommend to their superior officers that future civil affairs teams assigned to Estonia be given the opportunity to participate in a mission readiness exercise with the Estonian Honorary Consul and Estonian Society of Central Florida in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Estonian Honorary Consul and members of the Estonian Society of Central Florida who have participated in this experience consider it an honor and privilege to engage in mission readiness exercises and stand ready to continue to serve in this way. On behalf of all Estonians in Estonia and the diaspora, the Estonian Honorary Consul and Estonian Society of Central Florida (Kesk Florida Eesti Selt) express deep gratitude to the USA for its continuing support for Estonia.