Freedom and peace
Honoring 39 years of troop exchange between the US and Norway in Little Falls, Minn.
By Gary G. Erickson
Norwegian Home Guard troops recently completed their 39th annual reciprocal troop exchange with the U.S., NOREX 2012, by traveling to Camp Ripley, Little Falls, Minn. for two weeks of winter training. Approximately 118 Norwegians formed a contingent from various Home Guard districts throughout Norway. A like number of Minnesota National Guard troops traveled to Norway for similar winter training. This exchange constitutes the longest-lived military exchange agreement in the history of the U.S.
Lt. Col. Per-Ivar Norman, Commanding Officer, Norwegian Home Guard’s 5th District, Elverum, Norway and making his first trip ever to the U.S., was interviewed at a public reception held in Minneapolis’ Radisson Plaza Hotel in late February.
“I see the importance of learning to know each other, and keeping the bond between Norway and the U.S.,” declared Lt. Col. Norman, next year’s commander-in-chief. “We can present winter training conditions in Norway for the American troops, and we come here and learn how you, the National Guard, train here, especially the Rapid Reaction Forces. And, also presented to the youth we bring along, about 60 of them in all, are American culture and American soldier life. So, they actually experience a lot of things we actually can’t present back at home, weapons training being just one of them.”
This reception was sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Honorary Consulate General, the Sons of Norway and the Norwegian American Chamber of Commerce (NACC). Eivind Heiberg, CEO of the Sons of Norway and Midwest chapter president of NACC, shared Norman’s view and pointed out that Sons of Norway and NACC have both played an integral role in the success of this troop exchange, supporting it both financially and otherwise since the very beginning.
“It helps to strengthen the ties between the U.S., frankly, and Norway. It goes way beyond the Midwest and the state of Minnesota,” Heiberg emphasized.
Troop members were given an opportunity to experience American life through the “Buddy Weekend,” a time when they could spend a couple of days living with an American family somewhere within about 100 miles of Little Falls. American families volunteered for the experience earlier in the fall and the event has always been very popular. A favorite feature of this weekend is the ability of the Norwegian troops to sleep in and sleep late.
“Culture” was often referred to by the Norwegian contingent’s officers and enlisted men as a significant experience for them during their stay. When asked to define this cultural phenomenon, several times reference was given to the openness and friendliness they found afforded them culturally by the American public when they were out in uniform, in Little Falls as well as the larger city of Minneapolis. The public would approach them and thank them for their military service. This was something they had not experienced back home in Norway. One Norwegian officer stated she was going to take the concept of the “yellow ribbon tied around a tree,” and propose it to her Norwegian home city government.
A banquet was held at the Falls Ballroom, Little Falls, Minn., on the exchange’s final weekend before returning home. Military dignitaries from both countries, together with state politicians, American host families from the Buddy Weekend and all of the Norwegian contingent, then assembled to hear an historical articulation of their activities which took place in the previous weeks. Norwegian military units and individuals were recognized with rousing, boisterous cheers and shouts, when winners were announced with the result of inter-unit competition involving various military and physical skills. Several officers volunteered in asides that the summation of this experience of troop exchange is a powerful tool for military recruitment in Norway.
With anticipation of the special occasion of next year’s 40th anniversary of these troop exchanges, Minnesota National Guard Assistant Adjutant General, Brigadier General Neal G. Loidolt closed the evening and this year’s exchange activities with these words: “Our bonds have been forged in the fires of war… Our two peoples are united; united in heritage and in history; united in work ethic and in freedom, and united in the profession of arms… Let our two organizations continue to train in the profession of arms together, in order to ensure freedom, peace and prosperity.”
This article originally appeared in the April 27, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.