Norway and Minnesota troop exchange reaches 40-year mark
Monument given by Norway dedicated at Camp Ripley
A piece of Norway has been brought to Minnesota to celebrate the successful and long-running United States/Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange program.
Since 1974, about 100 members of the Norwegian Home Guard travel to the United States at the same time that about 100 members of the Minnesota National Guard travel to Norway, where each group participates in winter operations training, cultural exchanges and language immersion.
To present this gift and dedicate the monument, several Norwegian military dignitaries travelled to Camp Ripley. Chief of Defense of Norway General Harald Sunde and Chief of Staff of the Norwegian Home Guard Major General Kristin Lund were joined by Rear Admiral Trond Gytting, Defense attache at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The monument is located in front of the Minnesota Military Museum at Camp Ripley. It is a large rock excavated from Camp Torpomoen in the Hallingdal Valley of Norway, the place where the troop exchange program started.
After the rock arrived in the United States in summer 2012, Camp Ripley Commander Col. Scott St. Sauver made arrangements for it to be prepared for display. The bottom had to be made level and straight, and a place prepared for the bronze plaque of commemoration.
“This is a great honor for Camp Ripley and the Minnesota National Guard,” St. Sauver said. “The Chief of Defense is the highest-ranking military officer in the Norwegian military and his presence here is testimony to how important this 40th anniversary is.”
Following the dedication, participants moved inside for a press conference, fellowship and lunch.
Sunde spoke about shared values and standing up against terrorism.
“It’s an important mission to get soldiers together not only on the battlefield but also back at home,” he said. “One lesson learned after 40 years is to bring young soldiers together in competition, training and enjoyed friendship.”
Sunde observed that what is begun through the exchange program will last these soldiers’ whole lives, to stand up and protect values shared by both Norway and the United States.
“The monument is the largest piece of Norway in the United States, and a symbol of long-lasting friendship,” said Sunde.
Sunde presented St. Sauver with a plaque featuring the Call to Arms of the Norwegian Chief of Defense, in appreciation for the Guard’s support of the troop exchange.
Captain Erik Tandberg, aide to Lund, has participated in the exchange three times.
“I love meeting the people,” he said. “‘Minnesota Nice’ is not just a saying.”
Tandberg appreciates the cultural similarities between Norwegians and Minnesotans. “We relate well to each other,” he said. “Even different languages don’t get in the way of our connecting.”
The origin of the exchange can be traced back to two World War II veterans, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Harald Neigaard and Minnesota National Guard Maj. Gen. Jim Sieben. They conducted an informal exchange in 1973, which expanded into the present program.
“This 40th anniversary is very significant, since it’s the oldest such program in the Department of Defense,” said Camp Ripley Public Affairs Officer Major John Donovan. “We have such a strong Scandinavian heritage in Minnesota, and Norway is a very strong NATO partner of ours. We have this shared heritage, shared profession of arms, shared cultural experience and for all those reasons that makes the exchange program important.”
In 40 years, more than 8,000 soldiers, airmen and home guard personnel have participated in the Partners for Peace exchange.
“One of the senior Norwegian officers on this exchange told me he loves coming to Minnesota,” Donovan said. “One of the things he finds very heartwarming is when he’s out in Little Falls or the surrounding community, people often come up to him to thank him for his service. He never hears that at home.”
In addition to the monument dedication at Camp Ripley, two celebratory banquets were held to commemorate the anniversary. Governor Dayton hosted the Ambassador of Norway to the United States, His Excellency Wegger Christian Strommen and Sunde Sunday, Feb. 17, in Minneapolis. A banquet took place in Oslo Saturday, Feb. 23, in which the United States Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, hosted Governor Dayton at Akershus Fortress. Members of the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard also participated in the banquets.