All for One and One for All: Minnesota National Guard brings countries together through State Partner Program

A band of nations – the State Partner Program (SPP) began 30 years ago with just 13 partners. The Department of Defense’s intent was to assist nations emerging from behind the Iron Curtain and build lasting peace with former adversaries as they reorganized their political, economic, and military systems. The National Guard knew the skills and versatility of its citizen-soldiers and airmen would be just the expertise needed to support this initiative.

Since then, the program has grown into a vast network of 100 partner nations. State partners have assisted with establishment of defense plans, volunteer-based military transitions, framework for interagency operations and emergency management, and facilitation of humanitarian aid during natural disasters.

As said by Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, Chief, National Guard Bureau, “When people see the National Guard, they know we’re here to help.”

The program is an essential U.S. security cooperation tool that facilitates collaboration in all aspects of civil-military affairs across the globe. While the SPP has a small footprint in the grand scheme of the Department of Defense, it yields a mighty return on investment considering its allotted less than 5% of the defense budget.

For 27 years, Minnesota and its partner nation Croatia have focused on strengthening this strategic alliance. Paving the way for Croatia’s entry into NATO in 2009, and expanding from traditional military-to-military exchanges to its first civilian-to-civilian engagement in 2022. The SPP is an active and accessible program, sending the Guard’s civilian interagency partners and service members of all ranks on these exchanges. Last year alone, 89 members of the Minnesota National Guard went to Croatia for cooperative training events and exercises, subject matter expert exchanges, and key leader engagements.

“During my time in Croatia, I’ve developed many friendships with our foreign counterparts,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Nathan Buck, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter technical inspector with the Minnesota National Guard’s Bravo Company, 834th Aviation Support Battalion. “We’ve created an everlasting line of communication.”

Maj. Gen. David Tabor, Commander of Special Operations Command Europe, gives his remarks during a ceremony commemorating the U.S. donation of two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to the Republic of Croatia, held at the 91st Air Base near Pleso, Croatia on May 25, 2022. Croatia and Minnesota have collaborated for over 25 years as part of the National Guard’s State Partnership Program and continue to partner for increased interoperability between NATO allies. (Minnesota National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Sydney Mariette.)

Priorities for 2024 between Croatia and Minnesota include M2A2 Bradley (tank) modernization in Croatia, continued UH-60 Black Hawk subject matter expert exchanges that build on NATO aviation standards, and cyber defense cross-training with new cyber equipment. As for Minnesota and Norway, both are looking to embed key staff in the 2024 multinational training exercise, Nordic Response. Additional planning is already underway for key leader engagements, air-to-ground operations, and joint cyber training opportunities.

The Minnesota National Guard has the advantage of not one, but two partner nations, Croatia and Norway. In 2023, the Guard signed the SPP agreement with its 50-year training partner, Norway. The longstanding Reciprocal Troop Exchange between the Norwegian Heimevernet and the Minnesota National Guard may have been the beginning for the allies, but the SPP’s whole-of-government approach opens the doors to many more opportunities between the near-peer nations. 

While both nations are long time partners of the Minnesota National Guard in their own right, and Croatia and Norway have worked together in the past, now the Guard can work through the SPP to facilitate trilateral engagements and opportunities that did not exist before.

As the world focuses on deterring aggression, Minnesota’s state partnerships continue to build bonds and strengthen enduring relationships across the globe. We know that our partners are an essential element in maintaining advantages over our competitors, and safeguarding peace. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Staples, Director of International Affairs & SPP for the Minnesota National Guard, says, “The program sends a strong message of how committed we are to our partners, and them to us.”

1st Sgt. Beth Dedic

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs