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NEWS | May 6, 2024

 Virginia signs state partnership agreement with Finland 

By Staff Sgt. Marc Heaton | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia National Guard formalized its partnership with the Finnish Defense Forces during a signing ceremony May 2, 2024, at the Finnish Ministry of Defense in Helsinki, Finland. The letter of intent, signed by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, Finnish Minister of Defense Antti Häkkänen, and Maj. Gen. James W. Ring, the Adjutant General of Virginia, officially recognizes the pairing of the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Finland and the VNG as part of the National Guard Bureau's State Partnership Program.  

Häkkänen hailed the partnership between Finland and the Virginia National Guard as a testament to the successful collaboration previously experienced. 

"When we decided to apply for the State Partnership Program, it was in large part due to the good experiences of working with the Virginia National Guard in the past," said Häkkänen.

He emphasized the exceptional capabilities of the Virginia National Guard and the technological advancement of Virginia, highlighting the shared ethos of service by citizen-soldiers, as both nations boast significant reserve forces.

“Perhaps most importantly, we, just like you, are professional reservists. There’s almost 900,000 reservists in Finland,” said Häkkänen.  

Youngkin echoed Häkkänen's sentiments, expressing hope for the further strengthening of ties between Virginia and Finland.  

"It is when we, in fact, come together in partnerships and can progress the most important values in the world of liberty and freedom, we can, in fact, then see prosperity," said Youngkin.  

The National Guard’s State Partnership Program has served as a cornerstone for building enduring partnerships between U.S. states and more than 100 partner-nations for over 30 years. Through the SPP, U.S. National Guard units and partner-nation forces engage in a wide array of activities ranging from joint training exercises and personnel exchanges to disaster response and humanitarian aid initiatives. 

The SPP, administered by the National Guard Bureau, is guided by U.S. State Department foreign policy goals, and is executed by the state adjutants general in support of combatant commander and U.S. Chief of Mission security cooperation objectives and Department of Defense policy goals by developing enduring relationships with partner-nations and carrying out activities such as military-to-military engagements while also leveraging whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader cooperation spanning military, government, economic, and social spheres.    

“The State Partnership Program is a lot more than three signatures on a piece of paper. It reflects a joint commitment to collaborate, to exchange ideas, to build skills, and most importantly, a commitment to be better,” said Youngkin. 

Finland and the Virginia National Guard join a network of over 80 SPP partnerships worldwide, each contributing to the collective security and resilience of the international community. Through sustained cooperation and shared efforts, the partnerships aim to improve interoperability and enhance U.S. access and influence while also increasing the readiness of U.S. and Finnish forces to meet emerging threats.  

The SPP agreement between the VNG and Finnish Defense Forces builds on several decades of friendship and partnership between the two organizations. Finnish troops served alongside the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division during the Stabilization 10 rotation in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001-2002, and VNG personnel have trained side-by-side with their Finnish counterparts on numerous occasions over the years. Most recently, Virginia Soldiers and Airmen competed in a Finnish Sniper Championship, participated in the Arctic Forge 23 exercise, and observed a Local Defense Exercise in Finland; while Finnish personnel came to Virginia to participate in the Cyber Fortress 2.0 exercise as well as Expert Infantryman Badge testing hosted by the VNG’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. 

Reflecting on the significance of the day, Ring noted the long history of service by citizen-soldiers both in Virginia, but also in Finland.  

“How fortunate are we as the Commonwealth of Virginia, the United States military, and the United States as a nation, to be not only standing as a new Ally with Finland in NATO continuing to strengthen our partnership with a country that understands service, understands resiliency, and understands a citizen-soldier concept that is embedded within your entire community,” said Ring. 

“The State Partnership Program will enhance civil, military, and diplomatic cooperation, create mutually beneficial training opportunities, and facilitate the sharing of expertise and best practices,” U.S. Embassy Helsinki Chargé d'Affaires Chris Krafft said following the signing ceremony. “Working shoulder-to-shoulder, the VNG and Finnish Defense Forces strengthen regional stability and security. The agreement reinforces the steadfast U.S.-Finland partnership on a range of defense priorities and complements Finland's NATO membership and the U.S.-Finland Defense Cooperation Agreement, and will continue to preserve transatlantic security and meet any challenges the countries might face.   

The partnership between the VNG and Finnish Ministry of Defense is expected to focus on combined air operations and interoperability defense including defense against cyber threats, information and intelligence operations, combined land forces capability including the deployment of military forces in cold weather environments, military assistance and support for disaster operations and facilitating special operations training. 

"Establishing this partnership with Finland is a significant milestone for the Virginia National Guard and underscores commitment to fostering international cooperation," said retired Maj. Gen. Craig Crenshaw, Virginia Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs. "This collaboration will not only enhance our tactical capabilities but also strengthen the bonds of friendship and mutual understanding between our forces." 

Read more about the VNG’s partnership with Finland at  
 Finland, Palau, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and Tanzania will be added to the Defense Department National Guard State Partnership Program in 2024, Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the 29th chief of the National Guard Bureau, told a forum of defense and industry leaders March 7.  
The VNG just recently observed the 20th anniversary of its partnership with Tajikistan, and there have been more than 200 exchanges during that time. In just the last year, the VNG and Republic of Tajikistan have conducted exchanges on subjects like communications, infantry tactics, checkpoint security, civil engineering, and medical evacuation.  Read more about the Joint Resolution recognizing the 20th anniversary of the VNG partnership with Tajikistan at  and read more about SPP at  

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