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Minnesota National Guard
Annual Training for 851st expands Disabled Veterans Rest Camp

Soldiers of the 851st Vertical Engineer Company spent their annual training period this June constructing rest homes for the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp in Washington County, Minn

Specifically, the unit's task was to build two new cabins of 1,600 square feet each, and to build them from the ground up

But Tom Ferris, general manager of the camp, said the 851st didn't stop with the cabins The unit took on task after task: installing 450 feet of privacy fence, planting 50 trees to provide wind breaks, making the showers wheelchair-accessible, pouring 17 concrete slabs for dumpsters, laying coaxial cable for future television access, repainting just about everything, and much more And it's all compliant to code

"They just would not stop," said Ferris

The rest area now has 14 finished cabins to go along with the 120 RV (recreational vehicle) sites and 35 tenting areas Ferris estimates that anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 veterans, including spouses and children, pass through the rest camp in a summer And now, the 851st has helped to expand that capacity

"I've never seen such courteous Guard members in my life," he said, adding that the 851st got along extremely well with the older veterans currently at the camp The unit "had the deepest respect, and they showed it to all the veterans out here," said Ferris

Morale within the unit was sky high, says 1st Sgt Jeremy L Frank, the lead NCO on the project More than 100 of the company's Soldiers were on site during the construction

"Everybody's busy, and everybody's doing stuff that they like," said Frank

The 851st is coming off a year-long mobilization, having returned home from Baghdad last July While deployed, the unit constructed more than 220,000 square feet of building, installed 288,000 feet of wire, and built three combat outposts for Coalition and Iraqi forces

Here at home, Frank said that this training environment has given the recently deployed Soldiers and the other Soldiers an opportunity to come together and provide a good cross-training opportunity

"We have 12 block layers today that we did not have on Sunday, because the guys took the time to teach them," said Frank during the construction

"This is a great project, and I'm really learning a lot," said Spc Joshua Peterson, halfway through the project Peterson is an interior electrician with the 851st and a fairly new Soldier He found the experience at the camp extremely useful

"I think it's really rewarding that we're helping out veterans that put their time in," he said

Camp in operation since 1926

Located in May Township in Washington County, near Hugo, the camp was established for veterans in 1926 when the concern of the day was 'shell shock' and the casualty rates from war were much higher Since then, the camp has served the veteran community continuously for more than 80 years

It was a new idea to use an annual training period on such a project, according to Ferris, based on what the Guard members were telling him

The idea was conceived, he said, when a few camp managers met with Maj Shaun Riffe of the 84th Troop Command, who wanted to reserve an area for a few of his Soldiers Eventually the National Guard Bureau signed off on the idea, and the unit went ahead with the project

Everyone associated with the project is happy with the results and is anticipating similar efforts in the future

And 1st Sgt Frank said it has been the best training environment he has seen in his 17 years in the Army

"This is real life," he said "This is something usable, it's something tangible, it's something people can come back to in years to come"

by Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs
June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009: 851st construction expands Disabled Veterans Rest Camp - Low-Res

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