Camp Ripley welcomes customers, promotes COVID-19 safety measures

While practicing social distancing, Soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard arrive on Camp Ripley May 15, 2020 to conduct training in preparation for an upcoming rotation at the national training center in Ft. Irwin Califonia

May 19, 2020 (CAMP RIPLEY, Minnesota) – During the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic it may have appeared that Camp Ripley’s 53,000-acre National Guard training facility was closed for business, the reality is that department teams and staff have been working constantly to help customers arrange their schedules, training plans and mission requirements in order to get the most out of their training time during the restriction.

“The important thing is the balance between safety and the functionality of necessary personnel to keep our installation running. Although our customer flow has slowed down, we are by no means closed for business,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Cornwell, Deputy Garrison Commander for Camp Ripley.

While practicing social distancing, Soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard arrive on Camp Ripley May 15, 2020 to conduct training in preparation for an upcoming rotation at the national training center in Ft. Irwin Califonia

As the guidance of social distancing and work space protocols changed over time, Camp Ripley followed the Governor’s directives, Center for Disease Control (CDC) regulations and guidance from the Minnesota National Guard on proper safety procedures and teleworking of employees if possible. Since then, the restrictions on workplace activities have lessened and the overall requirements for several National Guard units to meet mandatory qualifications prior to mobilization resulted in the first of many busy weekends for Camp Ripley this spring.

Senior service officials said Thursday that the Army believes many of the service’s large fighting formations can return to critical, high-level training exercises in the coming weeks at their home stations and the service’s combat training centers. This includes the upcoming training exercise for the Minnesota National Guard’s 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division which is slated for training at Ft. Irwin, California later this summer.

“The Army has developed a rough framework meant to guide commanders through the processes of safely returning to field training operations across the force,” said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy in a news briefing from the Pentagon.

While planning and regular operations on Camp Ripley did not cease, it was a welcome sight to see nearly 900 customers utilizing the facility over this past weekend.

While practicing social distancing, Soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard arrive on Camp Ripley May 15, 2020 to conduct training in preparation for an upcoming rotation at the national training center in Ft. Irwin Califonia

“It is very good to see an increase in activity on the base again,” said Maj. Shawn Frey, Operations Officer for Camp Ripley. “We continue to be very active with units to accommodate their billeting and training requirements while adhering to the CDC guidelines and safety protocols,” he added.

As Camp Ripley moves into one of their busiest training seasons, the garrison leadership is making every effort to protect customers. This is done by advising units to conduct regular disinfecting, promote handwashing and adopt policies and practices, like staggering shifts and maintaining social distancing standards while in and out of the living quarters.

Aside from classroom training and normal drill activities, units utilizing Camp Ripley are educating their service members on tasks for the safe and skillful operations planned for their upcoming major training exercise.

“Camp Ripley is one of the few places that has the resources for us to do all of this training while maintaining social distancing and follow the CDC guidelines due to COVID-19,” said Lt. Col. Jacob Helgestad, Battalion Commander for the 1st Combined Arms Battalion – 194th Armor.

In addition to the military use of Camp Ripley, state partners such as the Minnesota State Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer academies have successfully conducted their training while meeting plans and practices for health safety. Though not easy, many leaders adjusted their training plans to meet the new guidelines, screen their personnel as best possible and implement new methods without sacrificing training standards.

“We are training on Camp Ripley for specific training we will use at the National Training Center in California. Ripley affords us the opportunity to train on our tank and Bradley platforms; training that we cannot do at home station. Additionally, we are conducting medical screening, training and readiness activities for our Soldiers,” added Helgestad.

“It’s important that we are able to establish a level of security and understanding of the necessary practices to keep everyone as healthy as possible. As we host several customers including units preparing to deploy, we make the required adjustments to operate in the new environment as return to normal,” said Brig. Gen. Lowell Kruse, Camp Ripley Senior Commander.

Story by Tony Housey, Camp Ripley Public Affairs