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Minnesota Guard, Norway Train Together

  • Published
  • By Sgt. Jorden Newbanks,
  • Camp Ripley Training Center

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. - Camp Ripley Training Center hosted the 51st annual Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange between the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard Rapid Reaction Force and the Home Defense Youth Feb. 1-12.

“Whatever force you train with, whether it’s inside of our own forces or on the exterior with another country, it’s very beneficial,” said Army Staff Sgt. Patrick Haley, Minnesota National Guard instructor with the 2nd Battalion 175th Regional Training Institute. “You get to see how others operate, that’s completely different from your own, and you get to take away the benefits that you see and what you want to sustain in your force. They do the same thing with us, so we’re learning off each other the entire time.”

The Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard send 100 troops to Norway and Minnesota to conduct winter training exercises and cultural events each year for NOREX. The events in Norway consist of arctic weather and winter terrain survival training, while the events in Minnesota focus on weapon, equipment, and tactics familiarization in a cold environment.

Camp Ripley hosted cultural meals, aerial tours, and hands-on training for the Norwegian RRF and the Home Defense Youth this year. 

“The Norwegian Home Guard youth are learning basic Soldier skills,” said Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Handgaard, youth squad leader. “They’re firing weapons. All weapon systems they’re learning right now and they’re learning medical training for combat. We’ll be doing simulated grenade throwing. They’re really excited about the Black Hawk ride. They have lots of questions and they want to learn. It’s very fun to be here with them.”

“I think everyone is excited to fly in helicopters like the Black Hawk and possibly the Chinook and see how they maneuver, holding on tight,” said Norwegian RRF Specialist Vemund Gillebo. “But I am also excited to try the Javelin and anti-armor simulator. To see the weapons and equipment of the National Guard.”

For most of the Norwegian Home Defense Youth, the 51st exchange was the first interaction with the Minnesota National Guard.

“What shocked me about Minnesota was how flat it was compared to Norway. Small hills, flat and very rural,” said Jørgen Aarem. “It’s shocking because Minnesota as a state has more firepower than I’ve seen. When we landed, we saw several C-130s on the runway. Camp Ripley is big and there are many training areas. You don’t have to travel very far to get to a shooting range. The facilities are very nice.”

“I was also very surprised at how nice American people are,” said Vegard Tysland. “The Minnesota National Guard has been very welcoming. I used to watch a lot of war movies, and the American Soldiers always seemed angry. But we got to meet them, and they are normal people and very friendly.”

During the 51st exchange, the troops from the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard found they had a lot in common, both in their military operations and culture.

“I would say the thing I’ve noticed the most is that you have so much more resources,” said Norwegian RRF Lt. Peder Strand. “And like, this camp is bigger than my county at home. So, opportunities will be the one thing that sticks out for differences, but I see more of similarities. The similarities are the people who are here are fully engaged in what they do. They take initiative, they take care of responsibility, and they try to always find the best solution possible. And if there’s something going on, they find another solution to the problem.”

The training culminated with Norwegian and Minnesota National Guard members practicing modern tactical and urban operations they learned throughout their two weeks at Camp Ripley.

“So far, the highlight is that the Norwegians bring a positive attitude to everything they do, and they’re willing to learn. And I think that’s rubbed off on us as well,” said Staff Sgt. Haley. “And we’re bringing that into everything that we do with them, training or evaluating. And I think going forward, this is only going to continue to get better.”

The Minnesota Guard and Norway have been partners under the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program since 2023.