2023 Accomplishments for the Minnesota National Guard
For the Minnesota National Guard, 2023 was focused on celebrating our people’s accomplishments, investing in our legacy partners while establishing new collaboration opportunities, in addition to modernizing our force’s training and equipment to ensure that we are always ready for our state and nation’s needs.
January set a high standard of excellence for 2023, with the Distinguished Flying Cross award ceremony for Air Force Maj. Katie Lunning on Jan. 7, 2023, at the 133 Airlift Wing in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She was recognized for her actions as a critical care air transport team nurse in support of Operation Allies Refuge and the evacuation of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 26, 2021. During this mission she saved 22 lives during the single largest aeromedical evacuation in Kabul Coalition Hospital’s history.
“Thank you, Maj. Lunning, for your dedication to the mission, for your bravery under fire, serving our nation with your medical expertise, and your care for humanity,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Loh, director of the Air National Guard. “You make us very proud.”
Another exceptional Minnesota Guard member recognized this year was Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Derrien Meixell, who was selected as this year’s General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award recipient.
The award recognizes company-grade commissioned and warrant officers who demonstrate the ideals General MacArthur upheld: duty, honor, and country. Only seven National Guard members, six commissioned officers, and one warrant officer receive this prestigious award each year. Meixell was recognized for his leadership during pre-mobilization, where his efforts directly improved company readiness levels from 6% to 88%, the highest of any National Guard air traffic company in 10 years.
“His innate ability to empathize with the Soldier and recognize what drives them,” said Army Capt. Logan Benda, Meixell’s commanding officer and nominator for the award. “That shapes the direction of any organization and achieves extraordinary results.”
A unit is only as good as its people serving within, and the 148th Fighter Wing is a testament to this as they celebrated their 75th Anniversary of being a wing in September. In honor of this milestone, a heritage jet was designed by Air members from the 148th by combining elements of the wing and Minnesota to represent the history of their unit and enhance unit pride.
In February, the Minnesota National Guard had the distinct pleasure of formalizing their long standing 50-year collaboration with Norway into an official partnership within the State Partnership Program. Through this Department of Defense initiative, Minnesota broadened its partnership to the entire Norwegian armed forces and increased the Minnesota National Guard’s interoperability with a NATO ally. The partnership culminated in a letter of intent signing ceremony in Saint Paul, Minnesota on February 4, with the official signing ceremony in Trondheim, Norway on February 15, 2023.
“I am humbled and honored to be here today to dedicate this [State Partnership Program] agreement to all the people who started [NOREX] in 1973 and followed up through 50 years,” said Norwegian Army Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway’s chief of defense. “I think they would be very proud to see what we have accomplished.”
Also in 2023, Camp Ripley Training Center won the Natural Resources Conservation award for large installations at the Secretary of the Army and Secretary of Defense competitions because of the exemplary partnerships established by the Natural Resources Conservation staff members. One of the significant accomplishments recognized was their work with the Nature Conservancy and University of Minnesota in Duluth to map natural resources features identifying areas of resiliency that could aid in regional response to climate change. Camp Ripley’s Natural Resources staff also hosts an annual internship program with Central Lakes College that provides students with experience conducting wildlife monitoring surveys and vegetation management.
“The Natural Resources Conservation program has accomplished a level of integration that is virtually unmatched, collaborating on projects that simultaneously improve quality of habitat through training enhancement, and vice-versa,” said Army Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse, Minnesota National Guard’s Assistant Adjutant General and Camp Ripley’s senior commander at the announcement of the award.
In addition to international and local community partnerships, the Minnesota National Guard fosters multiple collaborations with professional sports teams. In September, the Minnesota National Guard celebrated their 20-years of partnership with Minnesota’s major league baseball team, the Minnesota Twins. Since 2003, the Twins and Minnesota National Guard have collaborated to produce the Twin’s Armed Forces Appreciation Day game – a day of recognition and celebration of military service on the field.
As for modernization, the Minnesota National Guard is invested in keeping our equipment and our training competitive with the latest technology and techniques. During an uncasing ceremony in April, the Minnesota National Guard stood up the first division artillery headquarters in the Army National Guard since the divestiture of all Army division artillery units between 2005 and 2007. The Army National Guard chose Minnesota’s 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls to become the first of eight National Guard division artillery headquarters to be established over the next several years.
“The uncasing of the 34th DIVARTY guidon is a recognition of the significant history and culture of the field artillery within Minnesota,” said Army Col. Eric Wieland, the 34th Division Artillery Commander. “We are the first in the National Guard. We are creating a path for the other DIVARTYs across the National Guard.”
In May, approximately 750 Minnesota Soldiers participated in the multinational exercise Immediate Response 23, held in Croatia and North Macedonia. The focus of the exercise was to increase interoperability and partnership between partner nation.
“The U.S. led exercise Immediate Response is primarily focused on Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (known as RSOI) with the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division Red Bulls headquarters here in Udbina,” said Croatian Col. Boris Panić, the training and exercise department head for the Croatian general staff. “Under the division command, there are three brigade level task forces; Task Force South in Albania, Task Force Black Sea in Bulgaria, and the Croatian Army lead Task Force North, located in Croatia at Slunj Range.”
The Minnesota Air National Guard conducted an equally impressive exercise in Europe, called Air Defender in June of 2023. The exercise integrated U.S. and allied air power to defend shared values while leveraging and strengthening vital partnerships to deter aggression around the world. According to the National Guard Bureau, approximately 2,600 U.S. Airmen and 100 aircraft from 42 states have descended on Western Europe to train with 24 allied and partner nations to enhance joint capabilities.
In September, the 133rd Airlift Wing was selected to receive eight, new C-130J Super Hercules aircraft as part of the Air National Guard’s C-130J Recapitalization and Basing program. Eight locations were being considered with only four selected in the nation. The 133rd Airlift Wing will be able to modernize their skills and missions with the new C-130J aircraft as they will provide the Minnesota Air National Guard with the latest avionics, better fuel efficiency and performance, increased cargo capacity, and better logistical support. This step towards the modern era increases the Minnesota National Guard’s capability in supporting our state and our nation around the world.
2023 brought the Minnesota National Guard a renewed investment our people, partners, and the modernization of our force. As we look ahead to 2024, Minnesota’s Guard members look forward to continuing to support and advance our people, patronships and modernize our facilities, equipment, and mission skill sets.
Story by Army Staff Sgt. Sydney Mariette
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs