NOREX celebrates 50 years of exchange

Officials formalize agreement between Minnesota National Guard and Norway’s Home Guard

Photo: Royal Norwegian Embassy
Officials celebrated the signing of the official letter of intent for NOREX. From left to right: Ambassador Marc Nathanson, Ambassador Anniken Krutnes, Maj. Gen. Elisabeth Michelsen (Heimevernet), Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke (Minnesota National Guard), Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Betty McCollum, and Gov. Tim Walz.

Staff Compilation
The Norwegian American

On Sept. 4, Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota marked the 50th anniversary of the National Guard exchange between Minnesota and Norway. A Letter of Intent was signed at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., and a banquet celebration was held in the evening. Officials from Minnesota and Norway, including Marc Nathanson, U.S. ambassador to Norway and Anniken R. Krutnes, Norway’s ambassador to the United States, were present.

“Today, we are celebrating a 50-year-long military exchange between Minnesota and Norway that has produced lifelong friendships, promoted deeper cultural understanding between two countries, and signified Minnesota’s long-standing partnership with Norway,” Walz said.

“As a 24-year veteran of the National Guard, I am proud to elevate this partnership and look forward to building our relationship for years to come,” Walz added.

The Norwegian Reciprocal Exchange, commonly referred to as NOREX, is the longest-running national-guard exchange partnership between two countries. The program began as a simple handshake between the Norwegian inspector general and the head of the Minnesota National Guard in 1973. A year later, 40 Minnesota National Guard members and Norwegian Home Guard (Heimevernet) youth participated in an exchange.

The celebration of the partnership comes at a perilous time in history, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Throughout the weekend, the importance of the program was underlined. Minnesotans are learning winter warfare tactics, and Norwegians are training in cyber and weapons techniques. But perhaps above all, the Norwegians and Americans are learning to understand each other’s military cultures to strengthen the relationship between the transatlantic partners.

“If you can cope with harsh military winter warfare, you can cope with anything,” said Brig. Gen. Morten Eggen, chief of staff of the Norwegian Home Guard. “But we need to have a common understanding in peacetime to function during a situation as we now have in Ukraine. It’s even more important nowadays to also have an exchange program from low levels up to the political level.”

The same week, the Norwegian Home Guard troopers were at Minnesota’s Camp Ripley to train. The Minnesota National Guard then headed to Norway for more training.

The week of visits in Minnesota included a number of stops for the visiting dignitaries. On Feb. 3, Ambassador Nathanson visited the newly expanded Norway House in Minneapolis. The following day, he visited Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church adjacent to Norway House on Norway Block. Ambassador Krutnes was at Norway House that same day to address Lakeslaget, a group of professional women interested in contemporary Norwegian issues.

That evening, an official dinner to celebrate the NOREX exchange took place at the Roy Wilkens Auditorium in St. Paul, with 500 officials and guests in attendance.

On Feb. 15, a new agreement between the Minnesota National Guard and Heimevernet was signed at Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. Ambassador Nathanson, Gov. Tim Walz, and Queen Sonja of Norway were in attendance, along with other high-ranking government and military officials. Norway House was represented by Executive Director Christina Carleton, Board Chair Robert Tunheim, and Britt Ardakani, director of the Business Accelerator Resource Network program.

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.