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NEWS | Sept. 27, 2023

229th BEB leaders observe defense exercise in Finland

By Mike Vrabel | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

Key leaders of the Fredericksburg-based 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team and other Virginia National Guard personnel traveled to Finland to observe a Local Defense Exercise, or PAPU, Sept. 4-9, 2023. The PAPU, which is an anagram of the Finnish “Paikallis Puolustus,” meaning “Local Defense,” took place in several locations throughout Finland, including Kouvala, Hamina, Kotka and Kankaanpaa. 

Seven VNG personnel went on the trip, including the 229th BEB command team of Maj. William Pearson and Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Spring, as well as Maj. Stephen Holden, the 229th’s S3 operations officer and full-time officer-in-charge. Selected for the trip because of their role in the Virginia National Guard Reaction Force, the BEB leaders aimed to continue building relationships as well as learn about Finland’s tactics, techniques, and procedures related to civil disturbance, rescue operations and local civilian and Army relationships.  

The PAPU is held bi-annually in Finland to develop collective security, inter-agency cooperation and the ability to prepare for disturbance situations, according to Holden. Thousands of personnel participated in the exercise, which focused on civil protection, evacuations and rescue activity. 

During their visit, BEB leadership was able to observe urban search and rescue operations as well as joint training between Finnish fire departments, police and Army personnel. Part of that included learning about Finnish incident command structure during joint operations, both during peacetime and wartime. 

“Any chance to participate in partner locations is an awesome capability booster for both partners,” said Pearson. “Observing and integrating within how Finland directly integrates a whole-of-society approach to comprehensive security was extremely eye opening for the team.” 

Holden said the VNG team also was able to observe a simulated wartime combat exercise at the Port of Hamina and received briefings about the Finland Comprehensive National Defense Model and the Finnish Reserve Officer School. 

On the last full day of the trip, the BEB leadership visited the Karelia brigade’s engineer battalion, where they toured facilities and learned about the Finnish engineers’ organization and capabilities. Before the trip’s conclusion, the VNG team had lunch and experienced a sauna with their Finnish hosts.

“We couldn’t have been more appreciative of our hosts hospitality and their flexibility to integrate our team within multiple extents of their exercise from local defense and authorities to key governmental staff and commanders across the active professional army staff,” said Pearson.

Jason Burrow, the the emergency coordinator and manager for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, and Maj. Isaac Rivera, the VNG State Partnership Program director, also participated in the trip along with BEB leadership. 

The Virginia National Guard enjoys an enduring relationship with Finland that includes military training exchanges between Finnish Defense Forces and VNG Soldiers and Airmen.

Finnish troops served with Virginia’s 29th Infantry Division during the Stabilization Force 10 rotation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001-2002, sparking enduring friendships, and VNG personnel have trained shoulder-to-shoulder with their Finnish counterparts for many years, building deep professional and personal bonds.

In recent years, Soldiers and Airmen conducted cyber training with their Finnish counterparts, competed in a Finnish sniper competition, and learned from Finland’s expertise operating and thriving in Arctic conditions, among other exchanges. VNG Army and Air cyber warriors were also traveled to Finland to take part in the Elements of Cyber exercise.

Finland and the United States have a shared commitment to peace and stability, and security cooperation efforts have broadened over almost 30 years. National Guard leaders believe they will only be strengthened in the years ahead.

Read more about the VNG’s partnership with Finland at

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