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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota-Croatia State Partnership Program
National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP)

The National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP) evolved from a 1993 U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) decision to set up the Joint Contact Team Program in the Baltic Region with Reserve component Soldiers and Airmen. A subsequent National Guard Bureau proposal paired U.S. states with three nations emerging from the former Soviet Bloc and the SPP was born. The program has become a key U.S. security cooperation tool, facilitating cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs and encouraging people-to-people ties at the state level. The National Guard's 65-nation, 20-year-old State Partnership Program provides unique partnership capabilities to combatant commanders and U.S. ambassadors through partnerships between U.S. states, territories and the District of Columbia and foreign countries. The State Partnership Program engages in a broad range of security cooperation activities to include homeland defense/security, disaster response/mitigation, consequence/crisis management, interagency cooperation, border/port/aviation security, combat medical, fellowship-style internships and bilateral familiarization events that lead to training and exercise opportunities. Activities are coordinated through the Combatant Commanders, U.S. Ambassadors country teams, and other agencies as appropriate to ensure National Guard cooperation is tailored to meet U.S. and international partners objectives.  


Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash (center) met on 15 July 2014 with the Croatian Chief of Defense Gen. Drago Lovric (lf) to discuss the ongoing SPP engagements between the two partners. Gen Lovric thanked the Minnesota National Guard for their help in the reconstruction of primary schools in Croatia, and Nash expressed the Guard’s desire to continue to participate in new humanitarian projects.
Within the framework of the State Partnership Program and bilateral defense cooperation, a cyber security workshop was held 14-19 July in Mali Losinj, featuring experts from Minnesota’s academic community, the Information Systems General Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces and members of the Minnesota National Guard. Croatia’s Chief of Communication Information Systems Brigadier Jasenko Krovinovic was thankful for MNNG support in bringing experts and professors from the University of Minnesota as Croatia seeks to develop its cyber defense capabilities.

SPP Vision

The SPP vision is to establish and sustain enduring relationships with partner nations of strategic value in conjunction with the National Security Strategy, National Military Strategy, Department of State and Combatant Command Theater Security Cooperation guidance to promote national objectives, stability, partner capacity and create better understanding and trust.  

SPP Goal

The program's goals reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the National Guard to interact with both the active and reserve forces of foreign nations, interagency partners and international non-governmental organizations, emphasizing the unique state and federal characteristics of the National Guard.  

Minnesota-Croatia State Partnership Program Brief History

- 1996, State Partnership Program begins in July
- 2003, Croatia applies for EU membership, set for accession July 1, 2013
- 2009, Croatia accession into North Atlantic Treaty Organization
- 2011, transition of power occurs from the Croatian Democratic Union HDZ Party (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica) to Kukuriku (Social Democratic Party) in the 2011 Croatian National elections
- 2013, Croatia accession into the European Union

Minnesota-Croatia State Partnership Program Overview

Minnesota and Croatia have been state partners since 1996. Throughout this time, the Minnesota National Guard has provided one of its members to be part of the U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation located in Zagreb, Croatia.

This State Partnership Program supports U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging Croatian partners via military, socio-political and economic conduits at the local, state and national level. The Minnesota National Guard supports Croatian contributions and capabilities for peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue operations. This partnership has assisted in the development and interoperability of Croatia's Armed Forces.

Since Minnesota and Croatia partnered under the State Partnership Program, Minnesota and Croatia have participated in more than one-hundred bilateral military and civilian engagements. The program has created partnerships that include the efforts of many organizations and individuals such as private firms, civic organizations and non-profit agencies to name a few. The state partnership is a mutual alliance with planning committees in both Minnesota and the Republic of Croatia who work together in a cooperative effort to improve and enrich the lives of everyone it touches. Croatian military leaders have credited this State Partnership Program with helping their country prevail as North Atlantic Treaty Organization member in 2009 and into the European Union in 2013.

This State Partnership Program between Minnesota and Croatia has greatly progressed from small military exchanges to overseas deployments of Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams to Afghanistan and much more. The partnership fosters mutual interests and establishes long-term relationships across all levels of society.

Recent Highlights

In July 2011, the 2011 Croatian Exchange Partners for Peace mission was made extra special by the attendance of a few high level Croatian guests at Camp Ripley Training Center in Little Falls, Minn.

State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Croatia, Vice Skracic, acting ambassador, Croatian Brig. Gen. Vlado Sindler and Croatian Brig. Gen. Mate Paden traveled to Camp Ripley to meet with Soldiers and observe training between the Minnesota National Guard and Croatian Armed Forces. The Croatian visitors started their trip to Minnesota by meeting with Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard and then received a briefing from the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team Five who were gearing up for their deployment to Afghanistan.

At Camp Ripley, the Croatia contingency had an opportunity to meet with the Soldiers from both countries who were taking part in the exchange. A combined arms fire power demonstration was given by the 2nd Battalion, 136th Combined Arms Battalion. The demonstration started with a M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank moving into position and firing, followed by a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The demonstration utilized both Minnesota National Guard and Croatian Soldiers.

The Croatian delegation finished their Camp Ripley activities by observing joint operational exercise with Minnesota and Croatian soldiers conducting an urban operation exercise. The Soldiers demonstrated for the group a cordon and search operation, which again utilized both Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers working together to conduct the operation.

In May 2012, Minnesota National Guard Soldiers from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry once again teamed up with Soldiers from the Croatian Armed Forces for an annual exercise called GUARDEX 12.

This time, the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers from 2-136 CAB were in Croatia training with the Croatian Army over the course of two weeks. The Soldiers conducted platoon level training, integrating Croatian and Minnesota Soldiers. This marked the 16th year that Minnesota and Croatia have worked together in various programs. The GUARDEX 12 training exercise took place near Knin, Croatia. The rolling hills and breathtaking views on this Croatian military base mimicked the geography of much of Afghanistan. The first phase of the training involved familiarization with the Croatian weapon systems and live fire with an assault rifles, pistols, machine guns, RPG-7s and RPG-22s.

The platoon level training integrated Minnesota and Croatian soldiers together to conduct route reconnaissance, raid cordon and search, react to ambush and room clearing missions. The training was observed by Maj. Gen. Nash, who was in Croatia meeting with James B. Foley, the United States ambassador to Croatia and leaders of the Croatian Armed Forces, Dr. Dragan Lozancic, the Deputy Minister of Defense; Lt. Gen. Drago Lovric, Chief of Defense; Maj. Gen. Dragutin Repinc, Land Forces Commanding General and other military leaders to discuss the partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and the Croatian military.

While in Croatia, Nash also oversaw joint military exercises with Rapinc, Brig. Gen. Mladen Fuzel, commander of the Croatian Motorized Brigade, Lt. Col. Zoran Lipoak, Military Cooperation's Chief with the Croatian Army and other military leaders. This marked the final year of the GUARDEX training exercise between the two militaries. Although that was the last GUARDEX, it has been recognized by the U.S. ambassador, Nash and the Croatian military leaders as a valuable training experience for both the Minnesota National Guard and Croatian Armed Forces. GUARDEX and the many joint military exercises with Croatian have not only provided outstanding training, but developed friendships between soldiers in a partnership that began in 1996 and will continue into the future.

On clear crisp morning in late May 2012, members of the sixth and final Minnesota National Guard/Croatian Armed Forces Operational Mentoring Liaison Team dutifully marched onto the airfield in Pleso, Croatia just on the outskirts of Zagreb. On the tarmac, an Antonov AN-32 from the Croatian Air Force was loaded with all of their gear, weapons and equipment. At a hangar just off the airfield, the 27-soldier team gathered for their official send-off ceremony.

The team consisted of 12 soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard and 15 soldiers from the Croatian Army. OMLT Six completed their training with a joint culminating event in Hohenfels, Germany at the Joint Military Readiness Center. This multi-national team from two separate organizations came together and formed one cohesive team. These soldiers came from different cultures and spoke different native languages yet fully integrated into a combat ready force. The soldiers of this OMLT were no different from the previous OMLTs. They were dedicated and determined to complete their mission and take care of each other which is a true testament to the professionalism and warrior ethos of both the Minnesota and Croatian soldiers.

Today, the Minnesota National Guard continues to strengthen its partnership with Croatia and is making deliberate efforts to partner Croatian Government leaders with Minnesota State Government entities through civic-to-civic engagements. The overall intent is to facilitate planning fusion for civic discussions on future trade relations with Minnesota and Croatian international and domestic business leaders. The goals of the program reflect an evolving international affairs mission for the Minnesota National Guard emphasizing its unique state-federal and civil-military characteristics to interact with both the active and reserve forces of foreign nations, interagency partners and international non-governmental organizations.

The value of the Minnesota-Croatia State Partnership lies in its ability to concentrate a small component of the U.S. defense structure on a single country or region in support of U.S. Government policies. This concentrated focus supports the development of long term personal relationships and interagency coordination mechanisms that would not otherwise exist between Minnesota and Croatia.

Other priorities for the future include mentoring the Croatian Armed Forces on how to provide military support to civilian authorities, rotary lift engagements to support the air advisory teams, chaplaincy and assistance with cyber security and response. The relationship that has been established over time between Minnesota National Guard and Croatian Armed Forces has been built on trust. By training together, the two organizations have inspired and earned a level of confidence in each other that makes operations on the battlefield run more smoothly.
Related Links

Croatian Embassy in US

Military of Croatia

Minnesota Croatia State Partnership Program Overview.pdf

Minnesota/Croatia Partnership Wikipedia page

Operational Mentoring Liaison Team articles

US Embassy in Croatia