Keeping Camp Ripley in Action

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Electricians such as Mike Dullinger maintain everything from light fixtures to 34,000-volt substations and miles of underground wiring at Camp Ripley.

Beyond the armored vehicles, the drone aircraft, the helicopters, the thousands of camouflaged troops, and the year-round military maneuvers, Camp Ripley is a small city. Like many cities around the state, it is AFSCME members who keep it running.

Members of Amalgamated Local 2829 maintain the grounds and more than 600 primary buildings. They handle trash, wastewater, and utilities; paint and repair roads and buildings; and process the paperwork. They are state employees who often answer to military officials.

AFSCME members are seen – and unseen – everywhere:.

The camp has its own fire department. In addition to responding to fires, crashes, and emergency medical situations, crews deliberately burn about 13,000-15,000 acres each year. The controlled burns provide wildland firefighting training and, more importantly, minimize future fire threats by burning out potential fuel that could ignite accidentally during troop maneuvers, says Local 2829 member John Kreuser. “With all the ammo used around here, there’s a real fire danger,” hesays.

Ammunition also poses extra risks for housekeepers in the camp's billeting operation. Because just about everybody’s armed, weapons and ammunition are everywhere, says Jamy Hegseth. “You have to be careful what you touch.” 

Housekeepers such as Jamy Hegseth are responsible for as many as 50 beds a day in base housing. The camp’s housing operation includes half a dozen motel-style buildings plus about 20 houses.

A bigger role for state

Camp Ripley covers 53,000 acres between Little Falls and Brainerd. It is state-owned and operated by the Minnesota National Guard. The post’s weapons ranges and specialized combat and field facilities attract military units from around the country. At peak, Camp Ripley can have as many as 9,000 troops in exercises.

Firefighters Brett Clark and Randy Kalis oversee a controlled burn on Camp Ripley’s range.

But the camp’s access extends beyond the military. The DNR’s enforcement division has a training center on site. The State Patrol’s training academy and vehicle maneuvers courses are used by state and local law enforcement agencies from throughout Minnesota and the Midwest. The camp is also open for civilian deer-hunting in the fall.