The bond between members of the Minnesota National Guard and the Croatian Armed Forces continued to grow during 2023 with 33 engagement events – eight more than in fiscal year 2022. Ninety Minnesota National Guard members and four Minnesota civilians partnered with their Croatian counterparts, learning from each other’s expertise in disaster management, aviation, cyber, field artillery, medical practices, and more. 

“During this fiscal cycle, we wanted to broaden our horizons and establish hands-on learning in new areas related to military equipment, national security, and leadership,” said Army Lt. Col. Christopher Staples, Minnesota National Guard’s international affairs officer. 

Unique to this training year was the inclusion of a water purification exercise. In December, eight Soldiers from A Company, 134th Brigade Support Battalion’s water purification section traveled to Split, Croatia, to train with Croatian Armed Forces’ Soldiers on the production of drinking water using a Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit. The military partners were able to produce drinking water from seawater. This exchange was the first time the Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers had worked together to purify seawater and was a key event in advancing Defense Support to Civil Authority capabilities. 

“This exchange between Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Army Staff Sgt. Halee Baratto, the water purification team’s noncommissioned officer-in-charge. “We spent three days working through the diagnostics and testing, and once we achieved safe drinking water, we ran to the sea, hugging one another and cheering for water!” 

These exchanges are part of the U.S. Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program. Led by the U.S. National Guard Bureau, the program pairs states with nations worldwide, including Minnesota and Croatia, beginning nearly 30 years ago. 

The program fosters mutually beneficial relationships by building trust and understanding of partner-nations’ tactics and capabilities. The State Partnership Program facilitates global change at a personal level. It enables states and countries to support one another through simple tasks such as establishing aviation standard operation procedures, which has the ripple effect of bolstering a NATO partner’s security capabilities. 

Story by Army Staff Sgt. Sydney Mariette

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs