Camp Ripley commander says Iowa battalion experienced outbreak during training

Kruse said they worked with St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls and the number of soldiers requiring tests was overwhelming for the health care facility. He noted the outbreak spelled the end of the group’s training at Camp Ripley.

Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse (right) provides an update to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Sept. 1, during a special committee of the whole meeting. Kruse told the board 200 of 500 Iowa soldiers who trained at the base this summer were sent home because of testing positive for or being exposed to COVID-19. Screenshot / Chelsey Perkins

Editor's Note: Facts in this story have since been corrected by Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse. Visit Camp Ripley commander corrects comments on Iowa battalion outbreak for an update.

Nearly half of an Iowa National Guard battalion that came to train at Camp Ripley this summer became sick with or were exposed to COVID-19 while at the facility, according to the senior commander of the training center.

Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse included this information in an annual report to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Sept. 1, during a committee of the whole meeting. Kruse said the battalion, which included about 500 soldiers, was among the first to arrive at the military installation in June after quiet months of March through May in the early days of the pandemic. He said in that time, camp officials were able to learn techniques for cleaning inside housing units between groups of soldiers, which was about to become useful as training groups arrived.

“We had a battalion from Iowa that came that did a very poor job of doing COVID mitigation before they came,” Kruse said. “And so while they were at Camp Ripley they had an outbreak that cost them about 200 soldiers that they had to send back to Iowa that were sick or exposed. Out of 500 soldiers, that really became a training distractor for them.”


Kruse said they worked with St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls and the number of soldiers requiring tests was overwhelming for the health care facility. He noted the outbreak spelled the end of the group’s training at Camp Ripley.

Col. Lowell Kruse
Col. Lowell Kruse

A spokesperson with the Iowa National Guard Tuesday provided conflicting information compared to Kruse’s description of events. According to Capt. Ramah Husidic, public affairs officer in Iowa, data kept by their joint operations center showed there were just 15 COVID-19-positive soldiers sent back to Iowa from Minnesota during the June training. These soldiers were quarantined at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa, upon arrival, Husidic said.

Brad Vold, public health/social services director for Morrison County, said while the county wasn’t directly involved with the matter, it was part of conversations with St. Gabriel’s Hospital at the time.

“My understanding was they would not have had the capacity to do everybody, that large of a group,” Vold said. “It would’ve been a huge challenge. … They would’ve never been able to test an entire unit of soldiers in one day.”

Vold said there was no evidence the soldier outbreak led to any community spread in Morrison County.

Kruse told the Crow Wing County Board the group was eight days into its two weeks of training when soldiers began exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19.


“They sent some kids to St. Gabe’s Hospital and they tested positive,” Kruse said. “So then they did contact tracing and the next day sent like 60 kids to St. Gabe’s to get tested. The Morrison County emergency manager threw up the flag, because you know at that time St. Gabe’s could only test about 50 people a day.

“So we overwhelmed the local hospital and its ability to do testing that week. They (the battalion) did a good job from that point on of contact tracing and isolation and stuff like that. But they left two days early and took the whole battalion back two days early, because COVID had just become all they were dealing with. So they basically quit and went home. So it was a testament of an outbreak that really became a training distractor for them.”


Efforts to reach Kruse later Tuesday to clarify the discrepancy with Iowa National Guard figures did not yield a follow-up interview. A phone call to St. Gabriel’s Hospital was not returned Tuesday.

Kruse also pointed to an Indiana battalion that he said did a good job screening soldiers before they came for training.

“The opposite of that in July we had a battalion come in from Indiana that spent a lot of time on the front end doing some really good screening of their soldiers,” he said. “They left a bunch back in Indiana, but they were able to bring 700 kids here and they didn’t have one case the whole two weeks they were here. So those are kind of two extremes of what I’ve experienced this summer.”

Other COVID responses

Kruse shared other information concerning response to COVID-19, including the facility’s role in testing the Minnesota Army National Guard’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, before the unit went to Fort Irwin in California, home to the National Training Center. About 4,000 soldiers were tested at Camp Ripley before heading west as the first group in the Army to do a major training exercise since the pandemic began.


“Out of that testing of about 4,000 soldiers, we found 58 soldiers that were positive and asymptomatic,” Kruse said. “So that test allowed us to strip them out of the formation and isolate them and allowed that formation to go to California and really not be affected by COVID in its training.”

Brig. Gen. Michael Wickman, the commanding general for the 34th Infantry Division, was quoted in a story on the National Guard website about the testing procedures at Camp Ripley.

“Minnesota Guardsmen underwent this process at Camp Ripley (Minnesota), where a U.S. Army mobile testing team assisted in ensuring a quick turnaround of COVID-19 test results,” he said. “Soldiers were separated into small groups starting at Camp Ripley to limit troop interaction, and facilitate social distancing [as they] traveled together.”

Beyond testing internally, the Minnesota National Guard also deployed mobile teams to assist the state health department with testing people in long-term care facilities. Kruse said the Guard has tested close to 80,000 people in that effort.

Camp Ripley also assisted in the state’s COVID-19 response in other ways as well.

“We became a distribution center for the state’s response for COVID as well,” Kruse told the board. “We had a stockpile of PPE (personal protective equipment) that we gave to the state initially. That helped a lot in the lack of N95 masks and gowns initially in the initial response. “Since the state active duty started for us in the April timeframe, we have been managing a PPE warehouse for the state. We’ve been providing the logistics personnel that understand how to run a warehouse and they’ve been providing that support to the state constantly.”


UPDATE: This story was updated to correct the location at which Iowa National Guard soldiers were quarantined after leaving Camp Ripley.


The Dispatch regrets the error.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .


Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
What To Read Next
Get Local


Must Reads