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Minnesota National Guard
Behind the scenes at Camp Ripley

Military training base plays an essential role in Little Falls area
11:24 PM, Jul 14, 2012


Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Holtz, a surface maintenance mechanic at Camp Ripley, works June 27 to address a problem with the hydraulic cylinder that controls the rear door of a M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle / Kimm Anderson, kanderson@stcloudtimescom

LITTLE FALLS — As post commander of the Camp Ripley training facility, Col Scott St Sauver and his wife, Deb, are the only people allowed to have a permanent address on the grounds

That means Camp Ripley’s more than 50,000 acres of Mississippi River-hugging land and everything on it essentially serves as the St Sauvers’ front lawn

“It’s a pretty nice yard,” St Sauver said with a smile

Camp Ripley — which has been engaged in military operations since 1848 — has become such an integral part of the state’s landscape that its happenings sometimes go unnoticed to the general public It’s St Sauver’s hope that with community outreach and a healthy dose of transparency, Minnesotans will embrace the unique piece of history tucked away in the heart of the state

“The place is so much different than it was even 10 years ago, it’s amazing,” said state Rep Mike LeMieur , a Little Falls native “I don’t think the community knows exactly how much Camp Ripley does”

Camp Ripley didn’t open as a training site until 1931 and the post was used as a mobilization site during World War II and the Korean War Now, more than 60,000 troops train at Camp Ripley each year

Though no longer a mobilization site, Camp Ripley still lays claim to plenty of military equipment and training sites The motor pool houses almost 800 types of vehicles, equipment and storage areas that house hundreds of different kinds of gear, and a handful of training areas and artillery ranges are in place for trainees to sharpen their skills Recently, the Minnesota Legislature approved a $195 million bond for a new educational building that will be used to better serve troops and the community

After the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, the base switched gears from strategic reserve to “operational force,” St Sauver said That means daily operations became geared toward preparing for any post-terrorist attack operations the United States engaged in

“And now today what’s on the ground and what is currently going into the ground is a result of all that planning,” St Sauver said

Fostering community

To be an asset to the community, the state and nation is the aim of Camp Ripley’s leaders

The overarching federal mandate is to train soldiers Its responsibility to Minnesota — a responsibility that’s always growing, St Sauver said — calls for partnerships between the facility and other organizations

But it’s the community mandate that really seems to get St Sauver going

“To do our training right we have to train 24 hours a day and 365 days a year so it’s important for us to tell our local residents what we’re up to I’ve got great support from the county commissioners, I’ve got great support from the cities and the local government, but I believe we’ve been successful because we tell them, we tell them what we’re doing,” St Sauver said

Telling that story includes giving tours by appointment, hosting a well-regarded military museum and regularly sponsoring events such as a deer hunt for disabled veterans, an archery deer hunt on the grounds and the Trolling for Troops fishing event

St Sauver is proud of what he and his colleagues have accomplished and said that welcoming the public with open arms is a movement that’s been in the works since before he got there in 1999

“Camp Ripley is open, you can come in and see what we’re doing any time, and we’d be more than happy to show you what’s going on,” St Sauver said

Financial impact

The relationship between the base and the community is an economic one, as well The base has 1,000 full-time employees year-round, swelling in the summer months — prime training time for National Guard units — to about 3,000 employees That makes for thousands of people who live and work in cities surrounding Camp Ripley

Having that kind of neighbor provides a boost to the local and state economy According to Camp Ripley’s 2012 Community Brief — a recap of 2011 — Camp Ripley’s economic impact topped $140 million That year, Camp Ripley spent $63,775,732 on payroll, $23,287,258 on projects, $1,863,024 on utilities and $881,302 on food

Another $2,919,221 was spent on local contracts, which is likely to spill over to other local businesses

“(Camp Ripley) is extremely important,” said Neil Anderson, president of the Randall Area Business Group “To have a facility like this that has not only good-paying jobs but has continual activities (is important)”

The Randall Area Business Group formed in 2009 to help the city grow, Anderson said It didn’t take long for members to realize that the growth of their city was directly tied to how it was perceived by people who frequent Camp Ripley

“In small-town Minnesota or small-town USA, you either have towns that are dying, or they’re increasing We wanted to be one that is going to grow and increase,” Anderson said “ We want them to come to Camp Ripley, and while they’re here come buy a pizza in Randall or shop for some groceries or come and have a beer, whatever it may be”

With several cities less than an hour away from Camp Ripley’s main gate, residents of Randall aren’t the only ones to see the benefits

“When I worked at Camp Ripley, we used to call ourselves the Star of the North and that’s pretty much what it was because Camp Ripley had something to offer for everybody,” Morrison County Commissioner Rich Collins said

Collins, who lives in Little Falls and has served as a Morrison County commissioner since 2008, worked at Camp Ripley as a member of the National Guard for three years and a state employee for 20 years after that He said that without Camp Ripley cash flow would go down, unemployment would go up and the fiscal landscape of the entire area would change

LeMieur said Camp Ripley’s longevity makes it hard to discern its impact on local economies

“Being that I’ve lived here my whole life I probably don’t see it as much as I should, but you do know when the soldiers are in town They’re in our restaurants and there’s definitely an economic impact Without Camp Ripley, I’d hate to see what our community would be like,” he said

Other obligations

Camp Ripley is a hub for military and public works training Agencies such as the State Patrol, the Department of Corrections, the Minneapolis Police Department, the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Transportation all regularly spend time at the base for tests and training

Facilities such as Camp Ripley’s Combined Arms Collective Training Facility serve as interactive training grounds for soldiers, law enforcement and emergency services workers The base also has a tactical live-fire training facility and multiple live-fire impact areas for artillery training In June and and July, the base was scheduled to host more than 16,000 soldiers in 23 groups An additional 8,000 are expected in August Those numbers don’t include the civilians expected on the grounds during those months nor inter-agency training sessions

“When they come here, they come with good plans They train safely and we send them back to their families,” St Sauver said

Engaging environment

Within Camp Ripley’s walls is a unique blend of landscapes, plants and animals The grounds lay claim to almost 600 plant species, 202 species of birds, 51 species of mammals and 23 reptiles and amphibians

The base has forest and prairie, meaning the people in charge of environmental programs have plenty of variables to decipher — and teach to others

“We reach about 6,000 students a year, we give over 100 presentations to students each year,” said Jay Brezinka, environmental supervisor at Camp Ripley

Brezinka said Camp Ripley monitors the impact of the base’s training operations on the environment while working with high schools and colleges to provide job shadowing and fieldwork opportunities The environmental staff have partnerships with St Cloud State University, Central Lakes College, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and other wildlife biologists

With such a small staff — Camp Ripley’s environmental staff consists of eight people — building those relationships is a priority and a mutual respect for the environment is a prime opportunity to get people outside Camp Ripley involved

Facilities management officer Col Bruce Jensen said that as far as sustainability is concerned, retrofitting a base that’s more than 200 years old has its challenges

“Obviously, there’s only so much you can do for an old building, but that’s what we do to keep everything at least mission-capable,” Jensen said “We’re trying to integrate the new technology that’s available as much as possible”

Projects can range from simple rewiring to wide-reaching ventures aimed at reducing costs and environmental impact

“Sustainable infrastructure is a key piece to the strategic plan for the Army National Guard,” Jensen said “ We’re trying to determine right now what’s the efficiency level and what’s the pay-back period So that’s kind of how we try to keep the old with the new”

Brezinka said that kind of thinking goes well beyond the walls of Camp Ripley

“We’re trying to do a net-zero for energy, a net-zero for waste, a net-zero for water,” Brezinka said “We’re really starting to look into sustainability programs and that’s probably going to be our next phase as we try to look at our practices and look at what we can save so is the military in general, not just us”

Camp Ripley has an environmental compliance program in place that deals with environmental issues such as air quality, water quality and wastes, Brezinka said The camp’s current recycling program has helped reduce waste production from nine pounds of garbage per person to about 2½ pounds of garbage produced per person

Brezinka said that a plan is in place to use the money saved from recycling and waste reduction and to fund other environmental programs The base is looking at things such as clean energy, hybrid cars, solar energy and using bio mass fuel and geothermal heating as ways to better conserve energy and heat some facilities at Camp Ripley, though there is no timetable for when those programs could be put in place

Moving forward

Despite so much happening in the present, St Sauver said there’s plenty of pavement to lay for the future of Camp Ripley He pointed in particular to a $195 million project that is expected to strengthen Camp Ripley’s communal appeal, training facilities and educational potential The building was funded through a legislative bond — which LeMieur helped procure — and could be a linchpin at the camp for years to come

“It’s critical to our future,” St Sauver said “We don’t have enough classrooms to handle the large population that we have Those classrooms and that dining capacity allows us some new opportunities”

St Sauver said there are no plans for the facility to become a mobilization base, which would change its role significantly The base can host one brigade combat team at a time in training — 2,500 to 4,000 soldiers, St Sauver said Anything more and St Sauver’s yard would become much more crowded

Plans for the future are always being tweaked and perfected — for example, range and training area improvements are scheduled for 2013 and 2016 — a sign that after being a fixture in the state for years, Camp Ripley has no plans to go anywhere any time soon

“This base is second to none … this base is capable of so much more and we’re just grasping that,” St Sauver said “We’re looking 10 years out, we’re looking 15 years out What’s next?”

In the present, however, when passersby peer beyond the gates of Camp Ripley, St Sauver hopes that people understand just how all encompassing the facility really is There are federal, state and communal operations all tying into military training, social functions and financial demands There are thousands of acres of land to tend to and even more people to deal with There’s long-standing tradition, mingling with a more current need for progression and it’s right under everyone’s nose

“Other than that,” St Sauver said with a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm, “we don’t do a whole lot out here”
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