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Minnesota National Guard
Partnership worth building- Minnesota Guard and Croatian Army build classroom in Croatia

NASICE, Croatia " When Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Nagorski left his home in Belle Plain, Minn, early this summer, he was unaware of the camaraderie that would be awaiting him and his team in eastern Croatia

While Nagorski is more versed in building concrete structures than he is in building partnerships with international military personnel, he found that creating an integrated and cooperative team with members of the Croatian Army to be easier than settling sand with a tamper

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Nagorski, a Platoon Sergeant for the 851st Vertical Engineer Company based out of Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn, arrived in Croatia ready to train and manage teams of Minnesota National Guard Soldiers who were scheduled to cycle through Nasice for annual training

Squads of Soldiers from the 851st Engineer Co have been rotating through the small town, which is located on the northern slopes of Krndija Mountain in eastern Slavonia The engineers are working side by side with Croatian Army engineers to complete a project designed to train the Soldiers and strengthen the cooperative relationship that exists with Croatia, Minnesota's partner nation under the National Guard's State Partnership program

"The whole platoon has gotten an opportunity to learn a bit about the Croatian culture-from how they build to how they live," said Nagorski

"Specifically, we are working together to build an addition onto a kindergarten, including an additional classroom, a handicap-accessible bathroom and a ramp," said Nagorski regarding the project that will serve more than 200 local children each year

Nagorski, who has children of his own, is working toward a degree in law enforcement With the summer off between semesters, he feels lucky to have been given such a great opportunity to sharpen his communication, leadership and Soldier skills in Croatia

"I think more Soldiers should get the opportunity to train like this It's been such a great opportunity for individuals from both countries"

Maj Goran Zubak, second in command of the Croatian Army's Guard Armoured Mechanized Battalion headquartered in Vinkovci, has been working with Nagorski and managing the Croatians involved in the engineering project

"The Minnesota National Guard Soldiers have a good understanding of the work we are doing, and all of the Soldiers are working with great cooperation," said Zubak "I'm also pleased that our Soldiers began working together immediately, despite the language barrier They've worked well together-like one team

"This is the first time I've worked with US Soldiers, and I am extremely satisfied with the results," said Zubak "I've been able to develop a great relationship with the NCOs and officers from Minnesota They've worked very hard, and they've done a really good job"

"This specific project is somewhat humanitarian too," said Zubak "It's good for the local, civilian population and will provid multiple benefits, besides simply training our Croatian and Minnesota engineers"

Capt Marko Strunje, a Croatian engineering officer for the Mechanized Battalion, has been hands-on since day one on the job site He's found the State Partnership Program to be very beneficial to Croatia

"This has been really good," said Strunje "I've been very satisfied working with the Minnesota Soldiers The men are very professional"

"The Minnesota Soldiers have different ways of working on projects like these, but I believe working together makes things better because we are learning a lot from each other," said Strunje, who, besides working as a full-time Soldier, owns his own homebuilding company "I am very thankful for this cooperation"

Zubak agreed with Strunje's positive assessment of the partnership program

"This has been a really good experience for our battalion We've been successful in working together and learning from each other," said Zubak "Both sides have been exchanging information and experiences Sometimes, throughout the project, we've led and the Minnesota engineers have followed and assisted, and, at other times, they've led while our Croatian engineers learned and provided assistance

"Our brigade commander is also very pleased with the cooperation between Croatia and Minnesota, and he supports our partnership," said Zubak

"The overall partnership between Croatia and Minnesota has been valuable," said Zubak "First and foremost, it's allowed us to exchange experiences and improve each other Second, it has given our Soldiers the opportunity to meet and work together Because we may meet again in the future, we're in a better position having already experienced working together"

"The partnership is also a good thing because we've come closer to having a more integrated force, through NATO developments and our continued partnership and joint training," said Zubak "As a NATO country, we benefit from sharing experiences and developing joint standard operating procedures The training also allows us to see how things work in practice, compare processes-and even see where we stand as a force"

"I'm very glad that when all of this is said and done, I will have met, and worked with, about 40 Soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard," said Zubak "I'm very pleased to have this opportunity"

Story and photos by Staff Sgt Eric Jungels, June 1, 2011

34th Red Bull Infantry Division Public Affairs

Minnesota Army National Guard

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