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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Guardsmen Train in Norway for the 36th Year

Written by Sgt Darryl Sanford

1/34 BCT Public Affairs

105 Soldiers and Airmen of the Minnesota National Guard traded places with 115 members of Norway's Home Guard, the Norwegian equivalent of the National Guard During this 36th Annual Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange, each side experienced how winter skills training are accomplished on the other side of the Atlantic It was more than just skiing, sleeping in the snow and shooting It also was about understanding different cultures and traditions and earning experiences that will last a lifetime

The exchange is the longest-running military exchange between any two nations It began in 1974, and has involved today to include other countries, including Croatia and Sweden

Soon after their arrival at Camp Vaernes, Norway, on February 12, 2009, the Minnesota National Guardsmen were transformed into Norwegian Home Guard Soldiers, donning Norwegian uniforms and rank insignias and receiving Norwegian equipment After making sure the equipment fits and packed, the Minnesotans traveled south to the Norwegian Home Guard Training Center, Haltdalen At Haltdalen they received more equipment for the field training exercise, including skis, tents and a "pulk" or a sled designed to be pulled behind a skier

After a few days of getting used to the new skis, the Minnesotans completed a 4k ski march to the first campsite After setting up their tents and preparing their campsite, they continued to learn winter survival Such skills included avalanche theory and rescue, snaring wild game, making an emergency bivouac, lighting a campfire and ski-joring

On a very snowy February 17th, and with one day left in the field, the Soldiers and Airmen continued up the mountain After the 6 kilometer long ski march in the relentless wet snow, they arrived at the top of the mountain, ready to dig snow caves and prepare for the night The next morning, they returned to Haltdalen the same way they left, skiing 10 kilometers down the mountain carrying their gear with them They continued to Vaernes where they returned to the hospitality they received from their Norwegian trainers by throwing them a classic American party "¦ a Super Bowl party, prior to leaving for their buddy weekend the following day During the buddy weekend, Norwegian families opened their homes and their lives to the Americans, allowing a unique look into the daily life of the Norwegian family

In their final test of the winter skills training, the Americans were challenged with a 10K biathlon "¦ of sorts But instead of shooting, the Soldiers and Airmen were challenged to use their dexterity, memory and logic in 5 stations at every few kilometers Failure at these events cost the squads precious time at the end, with each events adding between one to 10 minutes to their ending time

After that last race, the Americans turned in their gear, and were given time for some sightseeing and shopping in Tronheim, Norway A farewell banquet was held for the Minnesotans back at Vaernes on February 18th The following day, they packed their gear and loaded the plane, leaving Norway exhausted but bringing back with them an unforgettable experience and stories they can share for a lifetime

The Norwegian Exchange Program

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