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NEWS | Sept. 6, 2022

Michigan National Guard hosts Estonian Officer for Military Reserve Exchange Program

By Staff Sgt. Jacob Cessna Michigan National Guard Public Affairs

The 3-126th Infantry Regiment of Wyoming Armory, Grand Rapids, Michigan hosted an Estonian officer during their Annual Training at Camp Grayling, part of the National All-Domain Warfighting Center (NADWC), July 19-23, 2022, as a part of the Military Reserve Exchange Program (MREP). Participants in this coordinated international exchange visit fellow NATO militaries in order to develop interoperability and bring back new processes and tactics to their home countries.

1st Lt. Sven Pärand, a company commander in the Estonian Defense League, spent his time in Michigan taking note of the way American army tactics differ from Estonian. From hands-on experiences with mortar live-fire and sniper marksmanship training, to observing Army medical practices and touring the Tactical Action Center (TAC), Pärand had plenty to process at the end of each day.

“The main point [of the MREP] is to see if I can actually take something useful back home,” said Pärand. “I've seen some really cool stuff here. So I know I will definitely be trying to implement that into our training.”

Pärand is one of 5 reciprocal exchanges the MIARNG has participated with in 2022.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joel Parham, scout squad leader from the 3-126th Infantry Regiment, had attended the Estonian-led military exercise Hedgehog 2022 in May this year. Approximately 15,000 conscripts, reservists, active duty servicemen, members of Estonian Defense League participated in Exercise Hedgehog 2022, as well as allies from ten countries.

“Some of the benefits specifically for me was seeing a very large exercise with several different countries. More than anything I've seen so far outside of other theaters like Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Parham.

Coincidentally, Pärand has a similar thought with seeing operations within the NADWC.

“The amount of space you have here to maneuver is really, really impressive,” said Pärand, “It puts things into perspective of what can be done during training.”

When asked what his favorite part of exercise Hedgehog 2022, Parham had this to say:

“Definitely working with Estonia,” he said. “They have quite a bit of interesting history, and they’re quick to make important changes with the military. They have a lot to offer us.”

Sgt. 1st Class Randy Gill, platoon sergeant for the 3-126th Infantry Regiment, who spent time working with Pärand at the TAC was pleased with his interaction with the Estonian officer.

“I learned that they can bring a different perspective that is equally as valuable as our perspective,” said Gill. “And a small country that is in a relatively volatile area, with a mindset similar to ours, it was an interesting culture to interact with.”

The U.S. has sought to build strong relations with the Republic of Estonia, ever since diplomacy began between the two nations in 1922. Programs like the MREP offer a way to continue to strengthen the ties between the two nations.

“It's no secret,” said Pärand, “All of our politicians, all of our biggest military leaders, they all have mentioned or said publicly that the U.S. is our biggest and most important ally.”