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Camp Ripley

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Color image of the Camp Ripley cantonment area, 2015.

The Camp Ripley cantonment area in 2015, looking north. Warehouse and post-wide service areas are in the forefront and to the left. Billets and troop training areas are on the right and top. In the middle is Miller Army Airfield.

Camp Ripley, a state-owned military reservation in central Minnesota, serves as the primary field training site for the Minnesota Army National Guard. It is one of the largest such installations in the country.

After World War I, it was clear that Minnesota needed a better camp for its National Guard. Camp Lakeview, the Guard’s campsite near Lake City, was much too small. The new camp had to be suitable for large bodies of troops, tactical maneuvers, and artillery ranges. In 1929, Minnesota’s adjutant general, Ellard Walsh, announced that such a place had been found: nearly 13,000 acres northwest of Little Falls on the west side of the Mississippi River. The U.S. War Department gave its approval and the Minnesota legislature agreed to purchase the necessary parcels. The site would be called Camp Ripley, after old Fort Ripley, an abandoned nineteenth-century army post that, by coincidence, was located on the property.

Construction began in 1930. When the first troops arrived in June 1931, they were greeted by a water tower and a few buildings. By 1940, the post boasted an infrastructure capable of supporting up to 12,000 troops at one time during summer months. The federal Public Works Administration and its successor programs funded nearly all initial construction.

Additional acreage was acquired in later years, bringing the reservation to 53,000 acres in 1961. Development of field training areas has been continuous since the post opened. There are numerous firing, tank, and gunnery ranges, specialized training areas for a wide variety of combat readiness skills, two aircraft runways, 6,000 feet of railway, and more than 250 miles of trails and roads.

The post has always been important to the U.S. Army. Soldiers used it for large-scale field maneuvers in 1937 and 1940. When World War II broke out, it became a federal Army Service Force installation. From July 1942 to October 1943, thousands of troops received basic and advanced training at Camp Ripley. In the summer of 1943, the post also held a 250-bed tent hospital—the only one of its kind in the nation. The camp’s facilities, however, had not been built for Minnesota’s cold, snowy winters, and the army moved out in October 1943. Shortly thereafter, the post was returned to state control.

Camp Ripley was initially designed as a summer-only post. Soldiers slept under canvas. Corrugated aluminum "hutments" gradually replaced tents in the 1960s. In the 1970s, crews began to build year-round barracks to accommodate winter training. A vigorous building and renovation program has been underway ever since, transforming Camp Ripley into a more diversified, state-of-the-art, year-round training and education facility for use by all branches of service and other government entities as well. Agencies such as the Minnesota Highway Patrol have always made use of Camp Ripley, but especially since the post was winterized.

Terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, led to enhanced homeland security measures and increased U.S. military involvement in the Middle East. Training emphasis at Camp Ripley followed suit. New construction since 9/11 has produced a 26-building simulated “village” to support tactical training in close-quarter, urban settings; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) training lanes; a Medical Simulation Training Center for medics and civilian responders; an unmanned aerial systems (drones) facility; and a State Emergency Management Training Center. By 2015, the post’s infrastructure could fully support collective, combined arms training for large-scale federal, state, and local civilian emergency management. The camp could easily house up to 4,000 personnel at the same time during winter months.

From its inception, Camp Ripley was designated as a state forest preserve and game refuge. Long committed to environmentally sound stewardship, the camp is a showcase for eco-friendly efforts and use of solar energy. The post supports several environmental initiatives in partnership with Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other agencies and organizations. The DNR trains its conservation officers at Camp Ripley.

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Abbreviated History of Camp Ripley, National Guard Training Site. [MN]: Minnesota National Guard, 1975.

Bettenburg, Philip C., and Ernest B. Miller. “History and Development of Camp Ripley, Minnesota Military Reservation.” Military Engineer 28, no. 158 (March–April 1936): 129–131.

Geraci, Pauline. “Camp Ripley Program Receives Award.” Brainerd Daily Dispatch, April 18, 1999.

Heilbrun, Captain Robert M. Camp Ripley as a Federal Camp. [MN: N.p., 1943].

“History of the 960th Air Base Security Battalion, 1940–[19]43.” Unpublished manuscript in Minnesota Military Museum Archives, 1943.

Minnesota National Guard. Camp Ripley.
http://www.minnesotanationalguard.org/camp_ripley/

Moeglein, Major General Chester A. “Memoirs.” Unpublished manuscript in Minnesota Museum Archives, 1977.

Ripley Reporter, 1988
Description: Newspaper published annually for troops training at Camp Ripley.

“Salute to Camp Ripley.”Little Falls Daily Transcript, June 5, 1964, Souvenir edition.

“U.S. Grants $100,000 in WPA Funds for Ripley Improvement.” Minneapolis Star Journal, August 16, 1940.

Walsh, Ellard A. “Report to the Minnesota State Legislature Covering The Several Activities of the Department of Military and Naval Affairs for the Period July 1, 1940 to November 30, 1942.” Adjutant General’s Office, Minnesota Department of Military and Naval Affairs, December 1, 1942.

“We Say Farewell.” Camp Ripley Muzzle Blast 2, no. 9 (September 22, 1943).

Related Images

Color image of the Camp Ripley cantonment area, 2015.
Color image of the Camp Ripley cantonment area, 2015.
Black and white photograph of Moe Jones and Einar Lund of Stillwater’s Howitzer Company, 135th Infantry, during a field inspection at Camp Ripley, 1935.
Black and white photograph of Moe Jones and Einar Lund of Stillwater’s Howitzer Company, 135th Infantry, during a field inspection at Camp Ripley, 1935.
Black and white photograph of guardsmen arriving by train for annual field training at Camp Ripley in 1938.
Black and white photograph of guardsmen arriving by train for annual field training at Camp Ripley in 1938.
Black and white photograph of Camp Ripley’s first armory, located just inside the main gate, was completed in 1937.
Black and white photograph of Camp Ripley’s first armory, located just inside the main gate, was completed in 1937.
Black and white photograph of aircraft hanger at Camp Ripley, 1939.
Black and white photograph of aircraft hanger at Camp Ripley, 1939.
Black and white photograph of soldiers of the newly formed 215th Coast Artillery Regiment at Camp Ripley, 1940.
Black and white photograph of soldiers of the newly formed 215th Coast Artillery Regiment at Camp Ripley, 1940.
Black and white photograph of a Tent city at Camp Ripley ca. 1950.
Black and white photograph of a Tent city at Camp Ripley ca. 1950.
Black and white photograph of Governor Orville Freeman inspecting his troops at Camp Ripley, 1955.
Black and white photograph of Governor Orville Freeman inspecting his troops at Camp Ripley, 1955.
Black and white photograph of former president Harry Truman speaks to guests in Nelson Hall, the post’s headquarters, in July 1953
Black and white photograph of former president Harry Truman speaks to guests in Nelson Hall, the post’s headquarters, in July 1953
Black and white photograph of after-hours relaxation in Camp Ripley’s Enlisted Service Club, 1958.
Black and white photograph of after-hours relaxation in Camp Ripley’s Enlisted Service Club, 1958.
Black and white photograph of tents and "hutments" at Camp Ripley, 1965.
Black and white photograph of tents and "hutments" at Camp Ripley, 1965.
Black and white photograph of winter operations training at Camp Ripley, ca. 1980.
Black and white photograph of winter operations training at Camp Ripley, ca. 1980.
Color image of M1 Abrams tanks arrive at Camp Ripley on flatcars, 2015.
Color image of M1 Abrams tanks arrive at Camp Ripley on flatcars, 2015.
Color image of cadre and candidates of the Minnesota State Patrol’s Trooper Academy march between classes at Camp Ripley, February 2016.
Color image of cadre and candidates of the Minnesota State Patrol’s Trooper Academy march between classes at Camp Ripley, February 2016.
Color image of a platoon of the 34th Military Police Company, 34th Infantry Division, during annual field training at Camp Ripley, June 2016.
Color image of a platoon of the 34th Military Police Company, 34th Infantry Division, during annual field training at Camp Ripley, June 2016.

Turning Point

In 1973, workers begin constructing self-contained buildings at Camp Ripley that can each house and feed a company of 200 soldiers in the winter months. This marks the beginning of the post’s transformation from a summer-only field training camp to a larger, year-round education and training facility capable of serving a broader variety of needs.

Chronology

1929

The location of a new camp for the Minnesota National Guard is selected and revealed to the public. The War Department gives approval and the legislature agrees to purchase the necessary acreage. It will be named Camp Ripley.

1931

Minnesota Guardsmen use Camp Ripley for the first time.

1940

Camp Ripley becomes center stage for Fourth Army Maneuvers, involving 55,000 Regular Army and National Guard troops from nine states. The post also supports intensified pre-mobilization training for the Minnesota National Guard.

1942

The U.S. Army takes control of Camp Ripley as a result of World War II. For the next fifteen months, thousands of soldiers train here, mostly as Military Policemen (MPs) for army aviation facilities.

1944

The post is returned to state control. The Minnesota State Guard (organized as a home-based military force in lieu of the National Guard) trains at Camp Ripley.

1947

For the first time since World War II, Camp Ripley is used once again by National Guardsmen for their required fifteen days of annual field training.

1961

The post enlarges its boundaries one final time, achieving its current size of 53,000 acres. Twenty to 25,000 troops typically train at Camp Ripley each summer.

1974

New winterized barracks are used for the first time. A unique winter exchange program with the Norwegian Home Guard is inaugurated.

mid-1970s

The U.S. Army begins to follow “Total Force Doctrine,” a strategy that more fully integrates reserve components with active components.

1980

Camp Ripley feels the effect of total force doctrine as mobilization preparedness becomes a watchword and field training intensifies. An influx of new federal dollars sparks a construction boom on post.

1988

Aided by the Minnesota National Guard’s Winter Operations School, winter activity at Camp Ripley peaks as 15,000 troops train there during the winter. They come from both active and reserve components, all service branches, and some foreign countries.

2003

Concerns about global terrorism and homeland security refocus the training emphasis at Camp Ripley. New construction and renovation follow suit.

2016

Camp Ripley continues to diversify its training opportunities. Twenty percent of the personnel using post facilities are now non-military.

2016

In July, the post is federally designated as a “Sentinal Landscape” through a state-federal partnership that conserves natural habitat while preventing nearby development that could impede military training.