Camp Ripley commander corrects comments on Iowa battalion outbreak
Fewer than 60 — not 200 — soldiers returned home early from a training stint at the National Guard facility, Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse clarified Friday.
The commander of Camp Ripley sought to correct the record Friday, Sept. 4, after comments he made to the Crow Wing County Board describing a COVID-19 outbreak among Iowa National Guard soldiers.
In a letter to the Dispatch Friday, Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse said fewer than 60 of the battalion’s soldiers were sent back early from a training session at the Minnesota National Guard facility in June. Kruse originally stated 200 of the unit’s 500 soldiers returned to Iowa due to either positive tests or exposure to the coronavirus.
“ … Most of those were exposure risks, and not the result of positive COVID-19 tests,” Kruse’s letter stated. “Out of an abundance of caution, the number of early departures and the continued concerns about COVID-19 did result in the Iowa Battalion ending training three days early and departing from Camp Ripley.”
Kruse offered the situation during the county board’s Tuesday meeting as an example of what he described as a very poor job of COVID mitigation prior to arrival at the facility. Later Tuesday, a spokesperson from the Iowa National Guard reported their organization’s data showed 15 soldiers who were at Camp Ripley tested positive for the disease caused by the coronavirus, and those soldiers were sent home early and quarantined at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa.
Kruse also stated Tuesday the event stressed St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls due to the high number of soldiers who needed testing. Representatives from the hospital said Wednesday, however, everyone who needed a test from the Iowa unit was able to get one and the hospital had the plans and capacity in place to handle the situation. They did note while most testing needed from those at Camp Ripley is arranged ahead of time through communication with officers at the military facility, that particular group of soldiers showed up on a Saturday without advanced warning.
“There was one particular Saturday where there was a large number of National Guards from Camp Ripley that came,” said Steve Smith, president and CEO of CHI St. Gabriel’s Health. “ … They were all seen — 30 to 35 of them required a test, and we got the testing done and we got those things out and squared away.”
During the next four days, there were 15 or 20 more tests conducted, Smith said, resulting in a number of positive tests within the group.
Chuck Hartsfield, director of emergency services at St. Gabriel’s Hospital, said the hospital has a strong relationship with Camp Ripley developed over many years and they’re in touch with one another sometimes several times a week, particularly in light of the pandemic.
“At the time, we were not overwhelmed,” Hartsfield said. “ … We had several that we treated from one extreme to the other. We had inpatient, outpatient. To say that we were unable to handle any patients was inaccurate.”
In his Friday letter, Kruse said the pandemic has stressed most systems and organizations, forcing many cancellations, reschedulings and shortened trainings.
“The uncertainties of this novel coronavirus are difficult on all organizations. I was attempting to show that despite the best efforts to limit exposure, organizations could have divergent results,” Kruse wrote. “Some units experienced no significant COVID-19 issues, while others that have taken similar precautions may be more impacted. We must continue to be diligent in our precautionary efforts to limit the spread of the disease, while still providing high quality training for our military.”
CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .