By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
On Thursday, approximately 100 members of the Norwegian Home Guard arrived at Camp Ripley for the 39th Troop Reciprocal Exchange. They will experience the hospitality of the Minnesota National Guard for two weeks.
Coming with the Home Guard to Minnesota were also a Swedish and Danish officer.
At the same time, 11 members of the Croatian Army are also living and working with soldiers at Camp Ripley. It will be their third year. They will be participating in specialized training for more experienced soldiers.
The Norwegian Home Guard’s Chief of Staff Major General Kristin Lund will be accompanying her troops to Minnesota. She was part of the first exchange in 1974, and has been part of most of the events.
While at Camp Ripley, the Norwegian soldiers will learn first-hand about local culture by participating in social events. They will take a trip to Washington D.C. to see the Mall, the Pentagon and the Norwegian Embassy. In Duluth, they will tour the Air National Guard base, the home of the 148th Fighter Wing. They will spend a day in St. Paul and tour the Capitol which includes the Joint Operations Center and Minnesota Adjutant General Richard C. Nash’s office.
They will also be active in combat-related training through the Rapid Reaction Force, sharing tactics with the National Guard. They will include cold weather training, small arms weapons training, a biathlon event, an Ahkio sledding challenge, military skiing and land navigation, first aid classes, combat vehicle training and communication and night vision device training.
Other events on the agenda include the fishing contest in Brainerd, a tour of Larson Boats, St. Olaf College, the Minneapolis Veterans Administration and the Sons of Norway.
Part of the cultural exchange taking place from Thursday to Wednesday, Feb. 22, is learning to communicate with people who speak another language.
“Most of the Norwegians speak very good English. They can understand both verbal and written English communications. The Croatians have more difficulty,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Lindberg.
Along with the Home Guard are youth soldiers ages 18 – 20 years old. These young people are in training to be Home Guard soldiers. They will familiarize themselves with the Camp’s weapon systems, train in basic soldiering skills and learn winter survival skills. There will also be a sled challenge and a biathlon.
“Relationships are created during the week the Norwegian Home Guard stays at Camp Ripley,” said Linberg, who is from Fargo, N.D. “Through e-mails and Facebook, the relationships continue.”
Lindberg said that during the two weeks the Norwegians are in Minnesota, there are about 100 National Guard soldiers who are in Norway. There they will work on winter survival and skiing skills.
Both groups put on a feed for their hosts. While in Norway this year, the Minnesota National Guard will be preparing a Texas barbecue with corn on the cob, beans and lots of meat.
The Home Guard staying at Camp Ripley will also prepare a meal with traditional Norwegian foods. This “Come Together” will be held Sunday, Feb 12, and is by invitation only.
“They bring all the food and even their own chefs. They will also give a presentation on the Home Guard to those in attendance,” said Lindberg.
Another get-together is planned in conjunction with the Little Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Business After Hours Tuesday. All mayors, council members and business owners are invited.
Lindberg said the exchange is part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Partnership for Peace project.
“This is a unique exchange,” he said. “It’s more than training, it’s a cultural exchange. Camp Ripley is the only camp in the United states that has this program which maintains cultural ties with Norway.”