American meal welcomes warriors

June 22, 2016 (CAMP RIPLEY, Minnesota) — Soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard and Norwegian Home Guard gathered together at the Camp Ripley Hanger Conference Center June 20, 2016, for the American Meal as part of the Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange. The exchange began in 1974 and is the longest-running military exchange partnership between any two nations.

The event, centered on the taste of American foods, shared the cultural and social experiences typically found here in America.

“It has been a pleasure to be here; we have a lot to learn from each other and it starts right here, with the young members of our two military organizations,” said Brig. Gen. Sandra Best, chief of staff of the Minnesota Air National Guard.

As an honored guest of the American Meal, Vietnam veteran and Silver Star recipient Steve Stotka received a thunderous applause from those attending and was recognized along with his family for their service to the country.

“It took me a while to convince him to go, but once there he truly enjoyed talking with the soldiers,” said cousin Kathryn Stotka. “Steve talked all the way home and into the night, I truly believe this is therapy for our veterans.”

Despite his hesitancy, Steve Stotka joined the members of the 2016 U.S./Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange for an evening meal on Camp Ripley. This would be the first time the Minneapolis native had ever been on Camp Ripley and the first time since the early 1970s that he set foot on a military installation.

“I had a hard time with it,” Steve Stotka said. “I had my fishing and my hunting … that was it.”

While amongst soldiers of Operation Desert Storm, Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, as well as several other campaigns, he witnessed the passing of gifts between the two organizations, the comradery of Service members, with little more than a few days of knowing each other, and the recognition of a “job well done” by senior leaders.

“It has been my great honor to have seen this program from both sides,” added Best.

For Steve Stotka, his time in service may have been in the past, but the natural acceptance of brothers-in-arms drew him into several conversations with the young Norwegian and American soldiers. Many extended their hands to Steve Stotka and thanked him for his service well into the night.

With the deep rumble of Blackhawk helicopters in the background, the remaining members of the exchange shared in stories and each other’s company around a few fire rings.

“It was a great night, with everything involved, it reminded many of us of our time overseas,” said Maj. BjA�rn Pinslund, Norwegian officer-in-charge.

by Staff Sgt. Anthony Housey
Camp Ripley Public Affairs