ZAGREB, Croatia –
Increased readiness, improved capabilities and enhanced interoperability between American and Croatian military forces.
Those are just three of the benefits the National Guard's most senior general said have resulted from the 25-year pairing of the Minnesota National Guard and Croatia in the Department of Defense National Guard State Partnership Program.
"We attach high importance to this longstanding security cooperation partnership," Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson said after meeting with Croatian President Zoran Milanovic in Zagreb Friday. "It has strengthened our respective military forces and deepened understanding and friendships between Croatia and America."
Minnesota and Croatia formed a partnership in 1996, five years after the Southeastern European country declared independence from the former Yugoslavia. Croatia joined NATO in 2009 and the European Union in 2013.
A relationship that began with small unit exchanges progressed to Minnesota and Croatia sending Soldiers overseas together to support combat operations.
"Through Minnesota, Croatia has access to all the expertise and capabilities of the 445,000-strong National Guard," Hokanson said.
The Minnesota Guard collaborates with Croatia on cybersecurity, range operations, training area development, rotary wing operations, joint terminal air control, and numerous other areas. The Minnesota Guard and Croatian armed forces are similar in size. Both partners defend their homelands, contribute to overseas operations, and provide defense support to civilian authorities. Both are also modernizing and continuing to develop their capabilities.
"The National Guard looks forward to further collaboration in the area of defense support to civilian authorities, where we face the shared challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters," Hokanson said.
Minnesota and Croatia celebrated the 25th anniversary of their partnership with July visits between Army Maj. Gen. Shawn Manke, adjutant general, Minnesota Guard, and Croatian senior defense leaders.
The bilateral relationship has led to multilateral, regional engagements for the Minnesota Guard, as highlighted by a multinational cyber exercise with Kosovo Security Forces and the Iowa National Guard earlier this year.
Croatia is a leading contributor to Southeastern European regional security and has supported collective security operations in Europe and the Middle East.
Minnesota Guardsmen have competed in Croatia's Best Warrior Competition; provided training advice and assistance; shared their expertise operating UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters; and engaged in shared noncommissioned officer professional development.
"Developing the noncommissioned officer corps is one of the areas where many of our SPP partners seek to share knowledge," Hokanson said.
Hokanson met with other senior Croatian leaders and took part in cultural exchanges during a two-day visit that ended Nov. 7, wrapping up a three-nation trip to recognize the importance of our allies and partners and the enduring 85 partnerships the National Guard has with 92 foreign countries.