Serving Our Troops Hosts “Dinners with the Family” for Norway, Minnesota National Guard Service Members

It is a time-honored tradition of the U.S.-Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange, known as NOREX, to share operational insights and cultural experiences -including national delicacies – when hosting their international guests. Since the partnership was established in 1973 and the first exchange kicked off the following year, the Norwegian Home Guard and the Minnesota National Guard have prioritized sharing a cultural meal when hosting troops for the annual two-week training mission.

“This cultural exchange that we continue to have with our Norwegian partners has been one of the greatest experiences of my military career. I’m proud and honored to be a part of such an amazing opportunity,” said 1st Sgt. Sterling Hartwick, a member of the 148th Fighter Wing who served as the First Sergeant of NOREX 50’s Minnesota contingent in Norway.

The all-American meal traditionally served is a steak dinner. The Minnesota National Guard contacted their long-standing community partner, Serving Our Troops, to provide this taste of America for the exchange’s 50th anniversary.

“The Serving Our Troops’ special message is a meal from home, and we have been proud to serve it up for this important partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and the Norwegian Home Guard,” said Pat Harris, founding member of Serving Our Troops.

The St. Paul-based organization of community and business leaders, Serving Our Troops, has been on a mission of support for nearly two decades in the form of a 12-ounce steak dinner from home for Soldiers and their families. On the home front and overseas, Serving Our Troops projects bring families together – it’s a simple thing, dinner with the family.

Since 2004, Serving Our Troops has served more than 110,000 steaks to service members and their families. They have supported 15 projects across multiple overseas locations in Kuwait, Iraq, Kosovo, and Djibouti. In the U.S., they have served troops and their families in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Mississippi.

Not only has Serving Our Troops been there for deployment ceremonies and reunions, they have also supported the cultural meals of NOREX regularly, beginning in 2014 with the NOREX40. Typically, the Serving Our Troops volunteers throw on their aprons to grill at the Camp Ripley Training Center in Little Falls, Minnesota, but for NOREX50, Serving Our Troops prepared more than 755 steaks in Minnesota and at the Værnes Garrison, in Trondheim, Norway.

“Having a group of volunteers dedicated to supporting us like this, coming all the way to Norway to help us celebrate this partnership and our 50th exchange, is amazing! It’s another reminder of the importance of the connections we make both at home and abroad,” said Hartwick.

The festivities began with 45 volunteers coming to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Feb. 4, 2023, to serve the American meal at the 50th Anniversary of NOREX Banquet to approximately 500 U.S. and Norway citizens and military personnel. Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz, Her Excellency Ambassador Anniken Krutnes, the Norway Ambassador to the U.S., His Excellency Ambassador Marc Nathanson, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Maj. Gen. Elizabeth Michelsen, Chief of the Norwegian Home Guard, Maj. Gen. Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, Minnesota National Guard’s Adjutant General, and other distinguished guests were in attendance.

In addition to the Minnesota-based dinner, Serving Our Troops went above and beyond in supporting the 50th anniversary of NOREX by sending volunteers to the Værnes Garrison to serve the American meal on Feb. 10, 2023.

“In the field, the meals-ready-to-eat were a point of bonding between our Guard members. Today, celebrating with everyone, the accomplishment of completing five days in the harsh conditions of the Norwegian mountains, eating these steaks was a cherry on top of our whole experience,” said Hartwick.

Now well-fed and well-trained, our service members in Norway and our Norwegian partners in Minnesota head out with their host families to experience the home life of Norway and Minnesota. The positive experience for all three American meals was only achieved with the strong community ties that the Minnesota National Guard and Serving Our Troops have fostered over nearly two decades of family-style dinners.

“It has been a fantastic experience. Serving Our Troops is rooted in close partnerships with the National Guard, and these relationships are important,” said Jon Marshall, Serving Our Troops co-founder. “We’ve been serving Soldiers with the Minnesota National Guard for about 20 years, and we are humbled and honored to be serving at an event like NOREX.”

Story by Staff Sgt. Sydney Mariette

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs