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Minnesota National Guard
Minnesota Adjutant General meets with Croatian Military Leaders

ZAGREB, Croatia - Maj. Gen. Richard Nash, Adjutant General for the Minnesota National Guard, traveled to Croatia May 13-18 to meet with leaders of the Croatian Armed Forces Nash also visited Minnesota National Guard Soldiers who were training with Soldiers of the Croatian Army

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Before meeting with the Croatian leaders, Nash met with James B Foley, the United States Ambassador to Croatia They discussed maintaining the relationship with Croatia and the way ahead

"The top priority in the near future is to reform and professionalize the Croatian Reserve Force," said Lt. Col. Guy Konietzko, International Affairs Officer for the Minnesota National Guard, who traveled to Croatia with Nash

"We will already start the framework for a communication plan later this summer for the building of the reserve force," said Nash "This goal has the support of the US Ambassador, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Defense for the Croatian Military"

Nash met with Dr Dragan Lozancic, the Deputy Minister of Defense; Lt Gen Drago Lovrić, Chief of Defense; Maj. Gen. Dragutin Rapinc, Land Forces Commanding General and other military leaders to discuss the partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and the Croatian military

The partnership between the Minnesota National Guard and Croatian Armed Forces is a component of the State Partnership Program The program was set up to assist Central European countries and their militaries in the transition to democracy and free market economies A National Guard Bureau proposal to pair state's National Guard with the countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania formally initiated the program Since then, the initiative has grown and is now a key US security cooperation tool, facilitating mutual cooperation across all aspects of international civil-military affairs

Today, the National Guard provides its unique capacity building capabilities to combatant commanders and US Ambassadors by partnering 50 US states, four territories, and the District of Columbia with 66 countries around the world through the State Partnership Program

This marks the 16th year that Minnesota and Croatia have worked together in various programs The Minnesota National Guard supports Croatian contributions and capabilities for peacekeeping, humanitarian relief and search-and-rescue operations The Minnesota Guard also assists in the development and interoperability of Croatia's Armed Forces

"The partnership is beneficial to both counties," said Lt. Col. Zoran Liposčak, Military Cooperation's Chief with the Croatian Army "It has helped Croatia, as a new Army, to improve our training and raise our standards All the officers and enlisted Soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard have been very professional and well-trained"

Since Croatia and Minnesota partnered under the State Partnership Program in 1996, the Minnesota National Guard has participated in well over a hundred bilateral activities with Croatia, including multiple iterations of developing and fielding combined Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams (OMLTs) to serve in Afghanistan The Soldiers from both countries form the OMLT and deploy to coach, teach and mentor an Afghan National Army kandack (battalion) in order to increase the overall capabilities of the Afghan Security Force

The Minnesota and Croatian Soldiers also team up for an annual exercise called GUARDEX Soldiers from the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry (2-136 CAB) were in Croatia training with Croatian Soldiers May 4-18 The Soldiers conducted platoon level training, integrating Croatian and US Soldiers

During his trip, Nash was able to view part of the GUARDEX 12 training  

"I was greatly impressed by GUARDEX 12," said Nash "It was well planned and executed by both the Croatian and Minnesota Soldiers It was led flawlessly by the junior officers and enlisted Soldiers"

This marks the final year of the training exercise between the two militaries "Although this is the last GUARDEX, it has been recognized by the US ambassador and the Croatian Military leaders as a valuable training experience for the Croatian soldiers" 

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/Multinational Aviation Training Center and assist with cyber security

"Part of our future work will include homeland response skills for natural and manmade disasters," said Nash  "We will exchange ideas from the experience we have in Minnesota and our response to disasters in the region and throughout our country as evidenced by the response to Hurricane Katrina

The relationship that has been established over time between the two 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

"Because of the great work of the Croatian Military and our Minnesota National Guard Soldiers, Croatia has become a respected and capable NATO partner and will become a member of the European Union in 2013," Nash said

May 18, 2012
Story and photos by Master Sgt Rich Kemp
Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs

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