by Cori Hilsgen – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lt. Col. Francis Court of St. Joseph has waited a long time for a new Army Reserve center. On April 5, he was a part of the gold-plated shovel ground-breaking ceremony for a new center.
The new facility is scheduled to be built on 10 acres of land located along Hwy. 75. Funding for the $11.8 million project was received in 2012, and soldiers are expected to move into the center in late 2014 or early 2015.
Plans for the center include 40,000 square feet of administrative and educational office space, a learning center, library, assembly hall, weapons simulator, fitness area, along with another 1,200 square feet of storage area for military and private vehicles.
The current facility, located in St. Cloud, does not have enough space for units to meet their mission requirements. The new facility will provide the needed space.
Speakers for the opening ceremony included Army Major Gen. Karen LeDoux of the 88th Regional Army Reserve Support Command of Fort McCoy, Wis. LeDoux, a two-star general, spoke about how important it is to have appropriately sized facilities that support the unit’s mission here in St. Joseph.
“Our facilities are our homes for our Army families,” LeDoux said. “Their reserve center is their family-reunion location where they come together to form units to improve their readiness and to improve their training, but importantly also to form that important link with the community. Our soldiers are citizen soldiers. They are members of the military, but they are also members of the community. That is a unique relationship that we have in the Army Reserve.”
LeDoux said the new center will add additional capability in the event of area disasters, if required.
“You are very fortunate to have this new capability here in St. Joseph,” LeDoux said.
She said this month also marks 105 years of the Army Reserve of citizen soldiers serving within their community.
LeDoux thanked Mayor Rick Schultz and St. Joseph for welcoming the 367th Engineer Battalion and their team to St. Joseph and for making them feel so warm and welcome.
Karen Miller, a representative of State Rep. Michele Bachmann’s office, spoke on behalf of Bachmann and read a statement from her. Miller read from the statement that the new facility will be a wonderful addition to our military, the city of St. Joseph and the great state of Minnesota. She added how it will allow our soldiers to receive the highest training while remaining close to the central Minnesota communities. Miller read from Bachmann’s statement that said the unit is part of the greatest military force in the world and on behalf of the sixth district and Bachmann herself thanked the soldiers for keeping America safe.
Mayor Schultz said St. Joseph will welcome the facility and work with people in any way they can so building the facility proceeds without any trouble.
“The center addresses the need for continually improving our military readiness,” Schultz said. “Congratulations on this milestone. St. Joseph welcomes you, and if there is anything we can do to make this transition smooth, or any assistance you need, call. As it goes forward, I hope to be around for the ribbon cutting, as well.”
Lt. Col. Eric Larson, commander of the 367th Engineer Battalion, spoke of the history and the process of acquiring the new center.
“What a wonderful facility it is here to be able to maintain our equipment and to be able to make sure we in the Army Reserve are prepared to go,” Larson said. “When we moved to this area (with the storage facility) we were welcomed with absolute open arms in the community. We felt very much more welcomed than you could believe. The battalion sustained two deployments in that time, one to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.”
Larson talked about how overcrowded the present facility is and how it will be “a delightful treat” to have the facilities and capabilities to be able to do their mission and to serve their cities and neighbors.
“We are here to serve the community as you have served and honored us with your support during these deployments and the trying times we had,” Larson said. “I thank you all, I thank you for being here and the support of getting the facility and the support you all have shown our Army and Army Reserve throughout the years and into the future.”
Court said an armory was scheduled to be built in St. Joseph as far back as 1989 but has been put on hold several times because of funding and other complications. The St. Joseph location was selected after 13 other sites had been rejected.
He was the civilian staff supervisory administrator for the Army Reserve’s 409th Infantry Battalion of St. Cloud years ago at the time an official search for an armory site began.
Court supervised 33 full-time personnel (active military and civilian) working in the cities of Walker, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Paynesville, Cambridge and St. Cloud. He was given the additional assignment to find property for an Army Reserve Armory site.
Court served simultaneously in a military Army Reserve capacity for units in St. Cloud, Fort Snelling and Fort McCoy, Wis. His final military assignment before retiring was as commander of the 409th Infantry Battalion.
Court sat with other distinguished members such as Cols. James Lundell and Thomas Haugo, all retired Army, for the opening ceremony. Lundell and Haugo currently serve as Army Reserve ambassadors and represent the Army Reserve at various military events and functions. Court worked with both men while he was active.
People who moved to the ground-breaking area to pick up gold-plated shovels to help break ground on the new facility included ceremony speakers Court, Lundell, Haugo and Harry Sieben, who is the Minnesota civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army. Sieben reports directly to the Secretary of the Army on all defense and soldier issues for the state. Also included was Paul Monteen, employer support to the Guard and Reserves, who is the state chairman and who recognizes employers for their support of deployed soldiers.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.