CAMP RIPLEY -- Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are foremost on people's minds when it comes to military news.
Despite the challenges of armed conflict, one tradition continues in Minnesota where for the 32nd year in a row the U.S.-Norwegian Troop Reciprocal Exchange took place in late February at Camp Ripley.
A total of 106 Norwegian Home Guard soldiers traveled from Norway for winter training while a similar number of Minnesota Guard soldiers went to Norway to train. Both nations' soldiers trained using the other country's winter training techniques and equipment in an effort to strengthen bonds between the two allies and share technology and ideas.
The exchange dates from 1973 when then-chief of the National Guard, Maj. Gen. Francis Greenlief, was invited to Norway to visit the Norwegian Home Guard. An agreement was reached during that visit that launched the first exchange.
A member of the Norwegian Home Guard crossed the finish line on skis during the biathlon competition at Camp Ripley. A total of 106 Norwegian Home Guard soldiers were at Camp Ripley as part of the 32nd annual Norwegian Exchange and completed winter training using American military equipment and training methods. Photo/Minnesota Army National Guard/Master Sgt. Edwin Holt
On an evening in early February 1974, 40 Norwegian Home Guard soldiers flew to Minnesota. Two days before that, a similar group of Minnesota National Guard soldiers arrived in Torpo, Norway, to train.
Aboard that first plane to Minnesota was this year's Norwegian officer in charge, Lt. Col. Rolf Wold, whose father filmed Norwegian and American soldiers at the airport in Norway during the first exchange.
"This is incredibly special for me to be at Camp Ripley in Minnesota," Wold told American and Norwegian soldiers at a welcome dinner. "It is sentimental for me to think I was part of that first exchange and also this one."
The exchange has gone on longer than 2nd Lt. Brian Douty has been alive. The 25-year-old American served as this year's Norwegian Exchange project officer. His parents had just gotten married when the first exchange occurred.
"Clearly, this is all new to me, but I am proud to be part of the tradition," Douty said.
Douty's responsibilities included overseeing the schedule of training and ensuring things went according to plan.
"We have two primary goals for this project," Douty said. "We want to build relationships with a strong ally of the United States and learn different techniques on how another nation operates and trains."
As project officer, Douty had the opportunity to fly to Norway to brief the Norwegian Home Guard soldiers on what to expect when they came to Minnesota. Douty said he was extremely impressed with the excitement and enthusiasm the group of young soldiers demonstrated.
"Not only were they gracious to me, they were extremely interested in how American soldiers train," Douty said.
Home Guard soldiers come from throughout Norway for the exchange, so the combination of intense training and being in a foreign country provides experiences that forge lifelong bonds for some of the young soldiers, said Master Sgt. Robert Eddy, senior trainer.
Eddy has been involved with the exchange the past 11 out of 14 years. "I've gone to Norway twice and been here as a trainer the other times," Eddy said.
While at Camp Ripley, the Norwegian soldiers had the opportunity to live-fire several types of American military weaponry and competed in a biathlon combining skills in skiing and shooting. They also experienced simulated technology.
"New this year was our Simulated Network training," Eddy said. "Using SIMNET, the Norwegian soldiers experienced how to drive and fire an M1 tank."
Along with military training, the schedule allowed the Norwegian soldiers an opportunity to take several excursions to experience American culture firsthand. Included are several trips, one to the Mall of America, local sightseeing and even a trip to Washington, D.C.
"With so many people in Minnesota having Norwegian ancestry, Minnesota is a natural setting for this type of exchange with Norway," Douty said.
Over the span of 32 years, there have been approximately 2,500 soldiers from each country who have participated in the exchange. The Norwegian Exchange Program is the longest lasting exchange program in the military, according to military records.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.