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Minnesota’s Camp Ripley is one of the largest National Guard training facilities in the nation

Courtesy of the Minnesota National Guard
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.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.

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Comments (1)

Memories of Camp Ripley

This article brings back many good memories. I wonder if the aluminum corrugated huts are still there...sleeping in them was better than being in tents out in the mosquito and tick filled woods, but they sure were noisy when the rain or hail hit the roof. The latrines at the end of each row of huts were pre-WW2 relics, but they worked and were appreciated when returning to cantonment area after 10 days in the woods.

Thank you for the article Mr. Johnson.