The National Guard’s senior general recently met with Finland’s defense leadership and observed military training during a three-day visit to the Northern European nation.
“I was honored to learn more about Finland’s defense forces and their concept of comprehensive security,” said Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
“Finland and the United States have an enduring friendship and shared commitment to peace and stability,” Hokanson added.
"Our security cooperation efforts have broadened over almost 30 years, and I believe they will only be strengthened in the years ahead.”
Finland applied for NATO membership last year.
Maj. Gen. Tim Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia, accompanied Hokanson during the overseas visit.
Virginia Guardsmen have trained shoulder-to-shoulder with their Finnish counterparts for years, building deep professional and personal bonds.
During the 1990s, Finnish troops served with Virginia’s 29th Infantry Division in Bosnia, sparking enduring friendships.
“The folks that we worked with in the Finnish Army have grown up along with us, and we’ve been keeping in contact, and we had an opportunity about six years ago to really strengthen cooperation, now that we’re all in senior positions,” Williams said.
In recent years, Virginia Guardsmen 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.
Just last week, a Virginia infantry platoon arrived in Finland for joint training.
During his visit, Hokanson met with U.S. Ambassador Douglas Hickey, Gen. Timo Kivinen, Finland’s chief of defense, Lt. Gen. Esa Pulkkinen, the director general of Finland’s defense policy and other senior leaders.
At the Guard Jaeger Regiment near Helsinki, Hokanson spoke with conscripts and observed training.
With a population of 5.5 million in a country slightly smaller than Montana, Finland has Europe’s longest border with Russia at 883 miles.
With the Soviet Red Army’s 1939 invasion seared into Finland's national memory, the Nordic nation embraces a whole-of-society approach to defense.
All adult men must perform a year of national military or civilian service, and women can volunteer.
“Finland has had a very strong, capable military operating in a difficult environment for generations,” Hokanson said.
In the face of disasters, Finns don’t wait on government help — they expect to be self-reliant for at least 72 hours, a lesson learned from World War II when the Soviets invaded.
Finland’s military focuses on territorial defense rather than power projection.
Finnish military policy embraces the whole of government and all sectors of society, including the business sector and non-governmental organizations.
During national defense courses conducted since 1961, union leaders, media representatives and educators learn about Finland's comprehensive security policy alongside service members.
Topics include psychological resilience and media literacy.
“This level of community involvement gives everyone a stake in national success,” Hokanson observed.
Overall, Finland has become a hedgehog unpalatable to the Russian bear.
And the recent conflict in Ukraine, where the Russians haven't differentiated between civilian and military targets, makes Finland’s strategy of keeping high-value targets away from civilian population centers look prescient.
Williams said the Virginia Guard has learned from Finland's national comprehensive security strategy about defense in depth.
“Their whole approach is colored by their hundreds of years of experience, but — more recently — 1939," he said.
“They’re the masters of using an inferior-size force against a larger enemy — and how to stop them," Williams added. "Hedgehog and the bear: that’s the perfect analogy."
— By Master Sgt. Jim Greenhill, National Guard Bureau