Minnesota National Guard marks 25th year of partnership with Armed Force of Croatia

An international partnership between Minnesota and Croatia is celebrating 25 years.

It's a unique relationship between the Minnesota National Guard and the Armed Forces of Croatia. This is called the state partnership program. National Guard units in every state have a mentorship relationship with another country.

For Minnesota, we have a relationship with Croatia.

The admiral in charge of the Armed Forces of Croatia is in Minnesota this week training with the Minnesota National Guard. It’s been a relationship that both he and the guard tell me has paid off in many ways.

When the Minnesota National Guard helped train the Afghan military in 2011, they worked side by side with members of the Armed Forces of Croatia.

"This is one of our oldest partnerships," said Sgt. Major Tony Centola. "We have a lot of deployment history together. They learn a lot from what we do and we learn from what they do. It's a great bilateral partnership."

Sgt. Major Tony Centola has twice trained with the Croatian forces. In fact, when the U.S. ambassador met with Croatia’s prime minister, Centola was there.

"I went overseas to Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 as part of an operational mentoring liaison team with Croatian military," said Sgt. Major Centola. "So they were able to provide forces to go over to Afghanistan and assist NATO countries and the US."

This year, both the Croatian military and the Minnesota National Guard trained together on cybersecurity.

"It was a journey of good stuff, good things, good experience," said Adm. Robert Hranj with the Armed Forces of Croatia.

Admiral Robert Hranj is the commander of the Croatian military. He says the smaller forces of the Minnesota guard have been excellent training partners with the relatively small Croatian military. "The way how we organize our military? How do you train your soldiers and how you maintain your equipment? All the key ingredients of any military and we've been quite lucky enough and to enjoy warm hospitality and high professionalism of Minnesota National Guard."

The Croatian military is about to acquire two Blackhawk helicopters and the Minnesota guard is helping to train their flight crews.

"A wonderful opportunity to train jointly our new pilots, you guys in Minnesota or with Minnesota experts," said Admiral Hranj. "And then so when we get graduates, we will also use the huge experience of Minnesota National Guard for that training."

The guard says it gets just as much in return.

"It gives us a lot of experience upgrades, the training opportunities, the equipment that we have," said Sgt. Major Centola. "So it defiantly helps us on the National Guard as a whole."

The state partnership with Croatia began after the fall of the former Soviet Union and Civil War in Kosovo. The partnership is 25 years old now with Croatian military members training this week in Minnesota.