National Guard flies educators to Camp Ripley for a day
Flying to Camp Ripley for the day, 25 educators from across the state were guests of the Army National Guard as they were given a helicopter ride and a tour of the camp.
CAMP RIPLEY — On a recent crisp fall morning, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter carried 25 people representing Minnesota’s education system for a day at Camp Ripley.
The goal of the Oct. 26 educator flight was to spread a message about services and activities at Camp Ripley and to allow educators to see and hear what the National Guard has to offer, said Capt. Clark Eggen, Military Entrance Processing Station-Fargo operations officer.
“It's more so just to expose the civilian population a little bit more to what the military can offer,” Eggen said. “And just give them a better idea of what the military does.”
As part of the experience, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and crew picked up the tour group for a brisk ride to Camp Ripley. Starting with 13 people on board, the helicopter took off from St. Cloud Army Aviation Support Facility bound for the Alexandria Municipal Airport to pick up 12 more educators and then headed to Camp Ripley for the day.
Eggen and the others in Alexandria joined the flight headed for Camp Ripley, though after a few minutes in the air, the Chinook turned back toward St. Cloud because of a mechanical problem. Had it landed at Camp Ripley, the flight crew and passengers would have been stranded at the camp, as the helicopter would be stuck at Ripley, far from base and its mechanics in St. Cloud, said Mike Bellos, a test administrator with the Minneapolis Military Entrance Processing command and one of the organizers of the event.
The educators received an impromptu tour of the aviation support wing in St. Cloud as the flight crew prepared another helicopter. After the tour, everyone boarded a new Chinook for the short flight to Camp Ripley.
Barnesville High School counselor Megan Hoyer said she had never flown in a helicopter before.
“I was very excited,” Hoyer said. “ … That was just an interesting aspect, a part of the educator's tour, and I was a little nervous. But they explained things really well.”
After landing on the field in the middle of the camp, the educators viewed a brief presentation on base operations by Lt. Col. Steve Hall, base operations manager for Camp Ripley. A former educator himself, Hall has worked on base since 2010 and talked to the group about the camp’s 53,000 acres, its mission and how it works with multiple organizations to support the community.
The mission of Camp Ripley is threefold, Hall said. First is federal, which is when troops deploy outside of the state. Then there is the state mission, which is disaster relief, trial duties and things of that nature. And there is the community mission, which is what they do when they reach out to all the people who surround Camp Ripley.
Hall said the mission within the community is an important one as the military’s mission is 24/7 and 365 days a year, and training at Camp Ripley often involves loud noises at all hours of the day.
“We try to be as transparent and as open as we can to what we do here at Camp Ripley and explain why we do what we do, when we're shooting loud stuff at 2 in the morning,” Hall said. “We try to explain that the enemy doesn't stop for quiet hours so our guys need to be able to train 24/7. So we reach out to our community quite a bit.”
Along with base operations, Hall talked about some of the opportunities the base offers to the science community, such as studying the hibernation and travel patterns of bears on base.
Swanville High School Principal Sheryl Johnson lives near Camp Ripley and said students have participated in the bear hibernation study. But she said she was surprised to learn about the other opportunities the base offers her students.
“The whole obstacle course I thought was really great. We are starting to incorporate more of that kind of stuff into our curriculum here at Swanville High School,” Johnson said.
After the presentation, the group made its way over to the maintenance facility and received a quick tour of the armorer’s room and mechanics showed the educators various equipment.
Eggen is a Brainerd lakes area native who graduated from Brainerd High School in 2009. After graduation he wanted to continue his education somewhere he could see the mountains.
“I really kind of fell in love with the state of Colorado,” Eggen said. “The problem with that is it's an out-of-state school, and so it's going to be very expensive and my family at the time … we just didn't have the money to send me there.”
Not to be deterred, Eggen pursued an ROTC scholarship.
“I really appreciate the teachers and staff at Brainerd High School that supported me in pursuing that scholarship, especially the guidance counselors, and the PE (physical education) teachers who helped me with my physical fitness test,” Eggen said.
Receiving a full scholarship to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Eggen was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army in 2013.
Hoyer said she learned about the various jobs the National Guard can offer and even climbed into the tight-fitting driver’s seat in an M1A1 Abrams tank. She said it was surreal to think of how military personnel do the jobs they do.
Before heading back to the helicopter for the ride home, the educators received a tour of the confidence and leadership obstacle courses. The leadership course consists of puzzle-like challenges, pushing those who participate to think outside the box to complete puzzles, and the confidence course is an obstacle course to test strength and will.
Both Hoyer and Johnson said they plan to explore the opportunities Camp Ripley offers.
“I really did not know what to expect. I mean, they tell you things, but actually seeing the facilities and having the people who work and live there talk to us, it was really interesting,” Hoyer said.
As the return flight took off from base, the helicopter’s loading ramp was open for the educators to get a view of Minnesota, one not often seen by civilian eyes.