Col. Terry Dorenbush wanted to be a schoolteacher. In fact, he even taught for a few years just after college.
Then he got sidetracked for a while.
Dorenbush, the post commander for Camp Ripley, retires from his military career of 31 years in mid-July, handing over responsibilities to incoming Lt. Col. Richard Weaver.
"It's a real jewel of a position," said Dorenbush, of being post commander, a job he has held for three years. "They give you a house, a 53,000-acre backyard." And they, the Minnesota National Guard, mow the lawn too.
But along with the free house and big backyard comes a great deal of responsibility, said Dorenbush. "You're here 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "It all comes back to the person in that house."
With Camp Ripley seeing 325,000 military training days, and 140,000 civilian training days in the past year, Dorenbush said, "There's a lot of activity, and a lot of opportunity to get hurt or killed."
Possibly a testimony to Dorenbush's leadership, or maybe just luck, Dorenbush never had to experience the sinking feeling of finding out someone has died while training at his base.
"Our biggest fear is having to haul someone out who lost their life here," said Dorenbush.
Dorenbush began his military career in 1969, when he enlisted in the National Guard, rather than delaying the inevitable -- being drafted after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Morris.
Dorenbush joined the Army National Guard part time, training on the weekends and teaching high school biology and chemistry during the week. As he gained greater responsibility in the Guard however, he said he was faced with a choice -- focus on his students or focus on his military responsibilities.
He chose the military, and after five and a half years of teaching, in 1975 decided to switch to a full-time military position.
Dorenbush worked in a variety of headquarters for the Minnesota National Guard, slowly rising in full-time responsibilities and rank, before landing the job of post commander at Camp Ripley three years ago.
Weaver was not facing potential draft, nor was the country involved in a war, when he joined the National Guard. His older brother was enlisted, and Weaver joined with six friends from high school after graduating, before leaving for college at the University of Minnesota in 1977. Weaver attended officer school in 1986. He went full time in 1984.
Weaver is currently based at the Minnesota National Guard's headquarters in St. Paul, but will be moving to Camp Ripley in mid-July, when he officially takes over from Dorenbush. Weaver said his two sons are looking forward to the move and the adventures they will encounter at the camp.
Dorenbush has regrets about his time at Camp Ripley, issues he wanted to address but did not, projects he wanted to undertake but could not. For instance, Dorenbush said Camp Ripley needs to work harder at improving the morale of the soldiers on base -- possibly adding a new community club with food, and an improved gym and recreation facilities.
"I feel Camp Ripley is falling behind on things to do when they're not training," said Dorenbush.
There were "people issues" not resolved, and facilities he wanted to see upgraded. Weaver said it is his goal to continue what Dorenbush has started at Camp Ripley.
"It's not an easy task," said Weaver, admitting there will be issues and projects he does not achieve during his tenure as well. "It's a long process."
One particular project Weaver is excited to follow up on though involves building a training center for how to respond to terrorism. The counter-terrorism center would allow for simulations to take place, and emphasize how civilians, especially area community leaders, should respond to possible terrorist incidents, and can work to prevent any possible situations. The center would be available to the entire region, possibly as great as seven surrounding states, said Weaver.
Despite critics, who feel that Minnesota is not suited for such a training center due to weather, location, or merely the fact that there are so many other bases in the country vying for the same type of training center, both Dorenbush and Weaver feel that Minnesota is a competitive choice for a training center on terrorism. The amount of room available at Camp Ripley to do simulations, as well as the amount of people that go through Camp Ripley every year that could potentially be trained are an advantage, they both said.
"We're just barely touching the edge of what we could do in education," said Dorenbush.
While at Camp Ripley, Dorenbush has made a point to increase communication and interaction with the community that surrounds the camp. Dorenbush has made his presence, and Camp Ripley's presence, known, speaking at city council meetings, addressing the community on radio stations, all in an effort to keep the public informed of events taking place at Camp Ripley.
Camp Ripley keeps its gates open to the public, hosting civilian groups and conferences when it can, partnering with colleges and universities for research on the environment and wildlife, and working with the DNR in research.
"I always say I have three missions," said Dorenbush. "One is to train soldiers to go to war. That's our No. 1 priority. Two, react to state emergencies. And three, add value to the community.
"My boss made it clear to me that we aren't going to barricade ourselves in. We gain strength from the community."
Working with the community has proven to be a defining feature of Dorenbush's time at Camp Ripley, though there are aspects of community relations he said that are difficult to resolve.
Encroachment is becoming a harder issue to avoid, said Dorenbush. "People are moving right up next to the post," said Dorenbush. "They want this backyard, the green and the wildlife." But they do not want the noise that accompanies a military training base, including the sounds of guns in the middle of the night, something that Camp Ripley is not excited to compromise on.
"Most of the fighting done in Iraq was at night," said Weaver. "We have to train soldiers at all hours of the day."
Other military bases throughout the country are beginning to have major problems with encroachment, said Dorenbush, including around Denver. Dorenbush and Weaver are hoping that by working with the community to stress what they feel are the contributions Camp Ripley is making to the surrounding areas, it will help stave off any larger problems with encroachment.
The official change of command ceremony, transferring the command of Camp Ripley from Dorenbush to Weaver, is planned for noon today. Dorenbush said he will be spending his time in Wisconsin, at his house in Eau Claire. He might do some substitute teaching, or do some consulting on human resource management, he said. His daughter lives in Wisconsin and he plans to spend time with his grandchildren.
"I'm just going to get to know who I am without a uniform on," said Dorenbush.
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