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Minnesota National Guard
Mock refugee crisis trains next generation of humanitarians

Photo by Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune CANNON FALLS, Minn - The refugee camp that sprung up in Minnesota last weekend was much like others in conflicts across the globe Exhausted refugees cried out for food Camp doctors struggled to aid the sick Soldiers toting M16s tried to keep peace

But this camp had one big difference The roughly 170 people in its drama were volunteer actors in an elaborate "humanitarian crisis simulation" that sprawled across woods and fields at a Boy Scout camp near Cannon Falls, Minn It is a weekend class offered by the University of Minnesota, with help from a half-dozen nonprofit organizations and the Minnesota National Guard -- whose soldiers act as not-so-friendly foreign government troops

One of a handful of such hands-on training camps in the nation, it is designed to give individuals considering humanitarian aid work a realistic look at the complexities ahead Given the migrant and refugee crisis exploding in Europe, it is timely instruction

"The number of humanitarian disasters and the number of people needing aid has gone up astronomically in the past decade," said Sarah Kesler, a U Department of Medicine assistant professor and co-coordinator of the course

At the same time, there's growing recognition of the critical role of humanitarian assistance, she said

"There's a new drive to professionalize it," said Kesler

The course is a step in that direction

The number of people displaced by war -- both within and outside of their countries -- reached a record 595 million last year, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees That compares to 375 million people in 2004 The war in Syria has been the single largest driver of the surge, the UN reports

Minnesotans have a long history of volunteering for international aid projects, pitching in with medical care, well-digging, agricultural support and more But those projects typically have played out in relatively stable settings, or in already established refugee camps The purpose of the simulation was to give students a taste of an emerging humanitarian disaster

"It's hard experience to get, until you get there," Kesler said

Hunger and guns

The simulation required a weekend-long commitment from its participants, actors and trainees A half-dozen camps scattered in the woods were inhabited by anguished refugees, who were visited by mock UN observers, rebel militias, supplies carriers and more during the course of the 48-hour training

The U students taking the class played the roles of disaster relief workers, working in emergency response teams for different nonprofit aid groups

On Saturday, the first group of relief workers headed to the makeshift hospital on site to gauge the medical care situation The sound of screams and groans from the small building greeted them Inside, the emergency physician -- in real life Dr Rahul Kashyap of the Mayo Clinic -- leaned over a patient He asked for a volunteer to hold the IV fluid bag and help with the exam, tiredly explaining, "I've been working nonstop"

The "relief workers" next headed to a camp plagued by malnutrition As a girl cried out for her missing parents, a woman moaned that people "were getting weaker and weaker" And "bandits have taken my husband," she said anxiously

The group later tromped through the woods to another camp, where a woman and her two children pleaded for fresh water for drinking and washing There's a river nearby, but people are using it as a latrine, the woman said

As the mother talked, two soldiers came down the road with a wheelbarrow containing bags of MREs, Meals Ready to Eat, emergency meals typically used by the military She eagerly grabbed some MREs and the soldiers trudged on

The day would hold kidnappings, death, starvation, threats by rebel insurgents, anguish and chaos The students took notes, and later created comprehensive plans to address the crisis Their final project would be their recommendations

Wenchen Wong, one of the students, got out of character for a moment as her team met with camp officials She marveled at how real the camp seemed, and at the constant dangers facing refugees

"This is amazing," said Wong "Everything seems so real I'm learning so many things"

It's also a terrific learning experience for the Minnesota National Guard, said Maj Noelle Racette, who oversaw a contingent of young men in fatigues and fake M16 rifles

"It's an opportunity for them to train in a real-life situation," said Racette "They learn situational awareness, working in teams, working in a fluid environment And it's great for students because when they go to other countries, they will run into military entities"

For actors representing global relief agencies, the simulation was a chance to share their years of experience with students PJ Doyle, a Minneapolis volunteer for the international Red Cross, played herself, visiting camps, registering people by name and tracking down missing loved ones

"I'm going to suggest that next year we bring in even more [Red Cross] volunteers," Doyle said

The class, which ended Sunday, marked the fourth year that Minnesota hosted such an event, said Eric James, co-coordinator of the course James, who previously taught a class on humanitarianism at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said the camp grew out of an awareness that students needed more than classroom teaching to understand disaster relief work

Racette agreed, joking there was another advantage: "A day in the woods beats a day behind a PowerPoint presentation"

September 14, 2015
Jean Hopfensperger, Star Tribune


Story and photos from last year's event
Article source
http://www.startribune.com/mock-refugee-crisis-trains-next-generation-of-humanitarians/327237711/



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Month of the Military Child recognizes contributions of military kids

Posted: 2018-04-07  01:54 PM
Minnesota National Guard FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 7, 2018

ST. PAUL, Minn.- The month of April is designated as the Month of the Military Child to recognize the contributions and sacrifices military children make so their family members can serve. An estimated 15,000 children in Minnesota have been affected by the deployment of a parent.

"Military children bear a lot while their family members serve," said Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, Adjutant General of the Minnesota National Guard. "It is up to us to support these resilient kids and help to lessen their burden."

An event to honor military kids in Minnesota will take place April 13, 2018, at the Mall of America rotunda from 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Activities will include appearances by the Teddy Bear Band and meet and greets with Nickelodeon characters.



Forging a path to career success

Posted: 2018-03-16  08:45 AM
Col. Angela Steward-Randle ST. PAUL, Minn. - Col. Angela Steward-Randle grew up in a military family - her father served in the Army on active duty - but it was a chance encounter with a friend at college that led her to want to make the military a career.

"My story is no different than many others," Steward-Randle, the Director of Human Resources, Manpower and Personnel for the Minnesota National Guard said. "I was in college and looking for financial resources to help pay for it."

Her college friend suggested they attend a summer training with the Reserve Officer Training Corps that had no obligation and could earn them some money. The friend never ended up going, but Steward-Randle did. After earning recognition as the top honor graduate and receiving an offer of a scholarship, she was hooked.



Minnesota Guardsman Receives Award for Combating Drugs in his Community

Posted: 2018-03-09  03:13 PM
Counterdrug WOODBURY, Minn. - Staff Sgt. Benjamin Kroll, an analyst with the Minnesota National Guard's Counterdrug Task Force who is assigned to work with the Hennepin County Sherriff's Office was recognized for his achievements as the Analyst of the Year during the 2018 Minnesota Association of Crime and Intelligence Analysts Training Symposium in Woodbury, Minnesota, March 7, 2018.

Through a partnership with Minnesota law enforcement agencies throughout the state, the Minnesota National Guard Counterdrug Task Force (MNCDTF) supports the anti-drug initiatives to counter all primary drug threats and vulnerabilities through the effective application of available assets, said Maj. Jon Dotterer, Counterdrug Coordinator for the State of Minnesota. The goal for the program is to support federal, state, tribal, and local agencies in the detection, disruption, interdiction, and curtailment of illicit drugs.

Kroll is one of sixteen service members on the Counterdrug Task Force that provides this force-multiplying service to our communities against illicit drug-use. With the information that law enforcement provide through their patrols and daily operations, Kroll and his colleagues across the state assist by putting together a figurative picture with all of the gathered information which aids in identifying how to move forward with legal action to deter or prevent the sale or use of illegal narcotic drugs.



Women Opened Doors in Minnesota National Guard

Posted: 2018-03-08  09:05 AM
Minnesota National Guard ST. PAUL, Minn. - "The battlefront is no place for women to be," said Command Sgt. Maj. Earl Kurtzweg, 125th Field Artillery, in an article published in 1976. "There are certain jobs girls say they can do, but they just can't do ... the battlefront is no place for women to be. Other countries in the world use women in combat, but the U.S. has not come around to that way of thinking." Kathy Berg, a New Ulm reporter summarized at the time. "So women in the New Ulm unit take care of personnel files and pay records and leave the fighting to the men."

The Minnesota National Guard has "come around to that way of thinking" since those early days of gender integration. In the last 44 years women have made momentous strides toward inclusion and acceptance. Their accomplishments are testimony to their fortitude and the progressive development of the Minnesota National Guard.

When an accomplished female Soldier is credited with breaking barriers she will often pass that honor to the women that preceded her. Brig. Gen. Johanna Clyborne is such a leader. She acknowledges that she is one of the first females in the Minnesota National Guard who has held key leadership roles, however she sees it differently. "I feel responsible for all women in uniform," said Clyborne. "Women before me opened the door, now I've cleared the room. It's up to the women behind me to hold the room."



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