Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


Camp Grafton South...

Posted 4/16/19 (Tue)

We can go as far back as the Spanish-American War to find solid documentation about the work of the North Dakota National Guard.

A lot of people in the region have been part of the National Guard over the years and for many, it shaped their lives.

A hitch used to be four years, then it was increased to six and later eight. Many did their duty, joined up and served an enlistment, while others made a career out of it.

How else could communities that house the National Guard support the Guard?

The first two communities that come to mind are Devils Lake and Bismarck. The state capital has state headquarters, among numerous other National Guard functions, while the Devils Lake unit has become a massive training facility.

In 1980,  Camp Grafton wasn’t a whole lot more than a glorified weekend training facility. By 2010, it had become one of the premier combat engineer proving ground in the nation.

And because of the success of the “schoolhouse,” along the way, Camp Grafton leadership decided to expand into other types of training such as operating a military dining facility and operating heavy equipment.

It also houses North Dakota’s Officer Candidate School, which has churned out most of the officers who have led the National Guard since the early 1970s.

Had it not been for the training facility at Camp Grafton, every Soldier in the state would have had to have gone somewhere to train for their next level of assignment.

Instead, most of them have been trained here with Soldiers from as far away as Massachusetts and Puerto Rico coming to Devils Lake to take part in the latest Army training.

It’s really brought a level of professionalism to Camp Grafton in the past 20 years, a level that certainly wasn’t there in 1980.

This organization had a vision of expanding and it has done an outstanding job of doing so, as is proven by the graduation rates of the Soldiers who attend the courses.

Now, leadership wants to expand the area known as “Camp Grafton South.” It is currently a 9,300-acre property that stretches across a wide swath of Eddy County, near New Rockford.

Heavy equipment is operated in this area, explosives are set off for training purposes, Soldiers run land navigation courses and weekend Soldiers hold their annual training at Camp Grafton South.

To expand another 6,000 acres would be to accommodate another large influx of Soldiers to be trained and yet there are some neighbors who don’t want it to happen.

Some say the training spooks their cattle, others claim that when charges are detonated, it rattles pictures on the walls and most outrageous is the claim that convoy traffic is hard to pass.

But if you look at the benefits of what the Guard is providing for Devils Lake and several other communities surrounding Camp Grafton South, you’ll see there is a clear benefit.

For instance, consider meals. The Army does indeed march on its stomach and when training exercises are going on, it takes too much time to drive back to Camp Grafton proper so many of the meals are contracted in small-town cafes such as McHenry and Grace City. Can you imagine what it would do for a cafe such as McHenry, population 56, when 160 Soldiers drop by for a noon meal?

It’s probably the equivalent of six months of normal business... in one day.

Soldiers on duty take breaks just like construction workers or retail employees. Most of the time, they’ll stop at convenience stores along the way from Devils Lake to Camp Grafton South to supplement that noon meal. They also purchase gas and sometimes repairs in small-town shops.

It seems that Grand Forks and Minot Air Force bases get all the attention when it comes to military in North Dakota.

But if you take a look at what Camp Grafton has been doing in the past 20 years, one could argue that North Dakota has it’s own Army presence.

In reality, it should be turned into a fort because it rivals Fort Irwin in California in a lot of ways. It may not be as big as Fort Irwin, or house active duty regiments, but it is a permanent place of training.

If you look at definitions, a camp is temporary, a fort is permanent. Camp Grafton may have been temporary to train World War I Soldiers, but it stayed around and is still there, training some of the best in the nation.