SD dairy farmer rises through military ranks to lead Camp Ripley

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CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — Brig. Gen. Lowell E. Kruse always wanted to do two things in life: be a soldier and a farmer.

The 50-year-old fulfilled both of his lifelong ambitions. From 1989 to 2006, the husband and father of two operated a 70-cow dairy farm in South Dakota before relocating to Camp Ripley.

"I tell people that the Guard allowed me to do two things that I've always wanted to do: I've always wanted to be a soldier and I've always wanted to be a farmer. And I got to do both of those things," Kruse said to the crowd at his promotion ceremony at the camp near Little Falls.

The new position, as Camp Ripley senior commander, places Kruse in the role as the full-time administrator to the entire installation to include the Camp Ripley garrison personnel.

"I came to Camp Ripley in 2006, and it didn't take long for me to learn and appreciate what an amazing family the whole installation is," Kruse said after the ceremony.

Kruse assumed the duties as the Camp Ripley senior commander in October, working in conjunction with Col. Brian Melton, who took command as the Camp Ripley garrison

commander, a position which had been held by Col. Scott St. Sauver since 2010.

"I am very happy for Brig. Gen. Kruse and his family. He is a 'soldier's soldier,' the type of officer that will place the mission and the needs of his soldiers first," said Battalion Officer-in-Charge Maj. Kristen Augé of Division Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 34th Infantry Division.

The Dawson native from Lac qui Parle County earned his commission from South Dakota State University, Reserve Officers' Training Corps in 1989 and joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as a field artillery officer the same year.

"All I ever wanted to be was a soldier ... and I got the chance when I joined the Minnesota Army National Guard. Throughout that time, I've tried to work hard like my mother taught me, to treat people like my father did," Kruse said from the podium.

Kruse received a Bachelor of Science degree in dairy science from SDSU and graduated from the U.S. Army War College with a master's in strategic studies in 2014.

"And all the time it was the smart people around me—that worked with and for me—that made me and my unit successful, so for those of you standing at the back of the room, you're why I'm here and I thank you for that," Kruse told the capacity crowd that turned out for him at the event.

Kruse, who was raised on his family's dairy farm, was promoted from colonel to brigadier general during Saturday's 30-minute ceremony, which was followed by a reception in an adjoining room at the Hangar Conference Center on Camp Ripley, which is about 25 miles south of Brainerd, in Morrison County.

The role of garrison commander, under the command of Melton, will now become a traditional duty as a drilling guardsman and will continue to care for the service members, employees and families of Camp Ripley.

"We got 680 people that come here every day and the 680 folks are doing their best to provide the best training environment they can for soldiers and for first-responders, and it gets in your blood, and you truly—the installation is a living, breathing entity," Kruse said after the event.

The duties of Kruse, the Camp Ripley senior commander, include the coordination of several

departments operating on the 53,000-acre, state-owned training facility in order to meet customer training requirement needs.

"I think part of the challenge is educating the public on just what the Guard is trying to do by putting me—a general—here full time as a senior commander, compared to what we had before with Col. Scott St. Sauver as the garrison commander," Kruse said after the ceremony.

Additionally the senior commander will work with interagency, community and state partners to ensure Camp Ripley remains in compliance environmentally, while maintaining federal, state and community mission readiness standards.

"Other challenges going forward is obviously fighting for money in Washington, D.C. ... as we go forward here to try to continue to expand the installation and do those things that we need to put in place for the training of the future," Kruse said during a break from his well-wishers.

"Right now, we meet every training need of the current Army, but we've got to look forward and try to figure out the training needs of the future."

Kruse also served as the full-time deputy chief of staff — logistics for the Minnesota National

Guard; implementing several maintenance, logistical and administrative policies used by one of

the premier organizations within the National Guard.

"Col. St. Sauver was my best friend and what I learned from him was the value of relationships. He cultivated relationships across probably the whole center region, and his ability to make friends and talk to anybody is one of the keys to success in this job," Kruse said of his new role.

Camp Ripley's command team will also continue to support the Minnesota National Guard's international partners while collaborating through several exchange and Partners for Peace Programs.

"He is extremely approachable and even with this promotion to general, troops will still feel comfortable in sharing their successes or concerns with him," Augé said during the reception.

Kruse commanded the Montevideo-based 1-151 Field Artillery Battalion from August 2010 to March 2012, leaving command to be promoted to colonel as the Minnesota Army National Guard, Joint Force Headquarters G4.

"The National Guard in Minnesota is the only military presence in Minnesota; we don't have an active duty base, so Camp Ripley plays that role for Minnesota and becomes our visible element of the Department of Defense in Minnesota," Kruse said of Camp Ripley.

"I think that's important because as we continue to have less people serve, we have this continued gulf that's widening between civilians and the military. Camp Ripley stands in the middle of that gulf, trying to become the place that allows them to understand and know their military and what they are doing for them."

Kruse commanded the 347th Regional Support Group from September 2015 to September 2017, but it was the brigadier general who was the one expressing at Saturday's ceremony his appreciation for the support of his friends, family, mentors and extended military family.

"We're so proud of him and we love the Minnesota National Guard so much. We feel like we have so many brothers and sisters beyond our actual family," said Amy Kruse, his wife, after the emotional remarks her husband made during his promotion ceremony.

They have two sons —1st Lt. Jacob Kruse, a 25-year-old Army engineer assigned to the 588th Engineer Battalion, Fort Carson, Colo.; and Pierz High School seventh-grader Connor Kruse, who stood on a chair to pin his father, who towered over most that stood near him.

The brigadier general's in-laws as well as his mother, and wife and children sat in the front row of the brightly-lit conference center as he became emotional during the ceremony, and as his eldest son wiped away a few tears.

"I stand before you today as one of the luckiest people in the world," Kruse told the crowd. "I grew up in a wonderful family with parents that taught me respect and the value of hard work and the joy of a completed project and the resourcefulness to find the solution."

Kruse's late father was a World War II veteran who would have appreciated the promotion ceremony, which included posting of colors, the national anthem, an invocation and benediction, and presentation to Kruse of a general officer flag, belt and pistol before concluding in song.

"My final thank-you is to the Minnesota Army National Guard—those men and women that make up our ranks and to their families that continue to sacrifice for all of us," Kruse said.

"The Minnesota National Guard has nurtured and mentored me. Today, I get the chance to return that favor."