Army Reservists train with elected officials in county’s cities

Lessons learned in Morrison County will impact peace and security in small towns cross the globe

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

Three of the 22 soldiers who visited with elected officials in 15 towns in Morrison County, talked with Pierz Mayor Toby Egan, Council Member Stephanie Fyten and City Administrator Anna Gruber. The visits were part of a training exercise for the Army Reservists from the Badger Company, 407th Civil Affairs Battalion. These soldiers work in cities all over the world. Pictured are (from left): First Sgt. Jerry Healy, Specialist Cody Steffen and Sgt. Caleb Jorgenson.

The knowledge elected officials around Morrison County gain is valuable in serving their own cities and residents. Maj. Mitchell Johnson feels it is also valuable in helping small cities around the world and in helping create an environment where peace can exist.

That is the mission of Badger Company, 407th Civil Affairs Battalion — to create conditions for peace and security.

Johnson is the commander of that company based out of Arden Hills. Last week, 22 of the Army Reservists under his command visited with elected officials in 15 cities over a period of three days in Morrison County, as well as with the county commissioners.

The visits are training for the soldiers. “That’s getting us to learn about applying information that we get — and making it applicable to another town,” said Mitchell.

“What we’re fundamentally doing is trying to build capacity and using the capability of that local government, whether it be in Sobieski, Flensburg or Pierz, or a city in Africa, Afghanistan or Iraq.

“What we get out of these visits is good training and good experience in trying to figure this stuff out,” said Mitchell.

During the course of the visits, Johnson said the soldiers were able to see differences as well as similarities in small towns. A solution used in one town, may be useful in another.

“The issues are the same here as they are there,” said Mitchell.

Once the Reservists can aid in creating conditions for peace and security, “We can begin to help that country maintain peace and security itself,” he said. “We are training those elected officials to take over their own security. That’s what we want — we want them to secure their own countries so we can go home.”

Johnson said security stems from a local government being able to provide services for its citizens.

“Local governments, the very basic local elected officials at the smallest level, that’s where security and prosperity begins,” he said.

“A small town is a small town, whether in the United States or Afghanistan,” said Johnson. “People may take offense to that, but a local official in Afghanistan deals with the same issues that the local officials here do.”

The same is true in Africa or Europe, or any town in the world, he said.

In Pierz, 1st Sgt. Jerry Healy, Specialist Cody Steffen and Sgt. Caleb Jorgenson met with Mayor Toby Egan, Council Member Stephanie Fyten and City Administrator Anna Gruber.

The soldiers asked questions about local government aid (LGA), the affects on the city when LGA is cut, how the city budgets and how council members settled disagreements, among other things.

“We agree to disagree,” said Fyten, while Egan admitted sometimes at budget time, tempers could be short.

But then, Egan said, what happens during the meetings, stays there and once they leave, they are again friends and neighbors.

“The work they’re doing as far as researching cities and using that information to help them abroad or wherever they end up being, I think is a really, really good idea,” said Egan.

“No matter where they’re located in the world, it seems like they have the same sorts of issues that we have. Where’s the money coming from, what type of basic services can we provide,” said Egan. “Obviously there are similar problems, but in other countries they are a lot worse.”

Egan said he was impressed with the soldiers’ interest in the city government, budgets. creating development and the research they did before coming to town.

“They know a lot of information about the city,” said Egan. “What a great group of guys. I’m very proud of them, very proud. The respect that they have not only for each other, but for other people in the community. It’s awesome to see our young people getting involved with not only the military, but helping cities out. Hopefully the training they’re doing will be beneficial.”

This is the second year Johnson has brought his Reservists for this one-on-one training.

In May 2011, he said he made a call “out of the blue” to County Administrator Deb Gruber.

“There was no incentive for her or for anybody else to cooperate with us — absolutely none,” said Johnson. “So the fact that everybody was willing to do this, not one or two or three, but every town in Morrison County, is absolutely amazing. I still can’t believe it. That’s 100 percent success for us and how often does one get 100 percent success.”

Although the Reservists are using towns in Morrison County as a tool for training, Johnson said he hopes they can help by sharing ideas that are successful in one town with another.

“The whole reason we are doing this in a real town in a real county with real people is that maybe we can be of some benefit to them as well,” he said.

“We get training and the town gets free consulting,” he said. “If they don’t want to take our ideas, that’s fine, but we wanted the chance to work with real problems and real solutions.”

The biggest compliment to the elected officials Johnson said came from the soldiers themselves.

“The soldiers are saying, ‘Why didn’t we have this training before we went overseas the last time?’” Johnson said.

“There’s no possible way that my soldiers could get as good of training as they did in these last three days anywhere else,” said Johnson. “And those towns may not believe that, but I say that with all sincerity, because the only other way to train would be for me and other soldiers to become role players.”

But Johnson said there was no way he would know enough about being a mayor or council member or running a city to be a role player.

“The quality of training, going out to talking to real people, hearing real problems, is so much better than anywhere else,” he said. “People on their own time, without any obvious benefit to meet with us is more than I could ever imagine. I am very appreciative and always will be.”