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An 'eye-opening' day: North Dakota educators get hands-on National Guard experience at Camp Grafton

The educators were part of a group of 34 teachers, principals and guidance counselors who participated in a tour of Camp Grafton near Devils Lake as a part of an outreach program from the National Guard on Thursday, Aug. 4.

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Chris Johnson, an English teacher from Thompson, rappels down a tower at Camp Grafton on Thursday, Aug. 4. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)
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CAMP GRAFTON — Hovering just north of Highway 2 last week, two teachers from Thompson pointed out the cities below as the Blackhawk helicopter they were riding in made its way toward Camp Grafton.

“Is that Larimore?” one questioned, pointing down at the window and the town below.

The two quickly corrected themselves, realizing they were above Emerado, but they kept a watchful eye as the group passed over town after town and various lakes. When they landed, the group remarked to one another just how incredible an experience it was to get to ride in a Blackhawk.

The educators were part of a group of 34 teachers, principals and guidance counselors who participated in a tour of Camp Grafton near Devils Lake as a part of an outreach program from the National Guard on Thursday, Aug. 4.

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Northern Cass Principal Doug Margerum belays for another educator at Camp Grafton on Thursday, Aug. 4. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)

The program, which has been ongoing since 2015, brings educators to the home of the 164th Regional Training Institute, among other battalions, where soldiers and National Guard members train and hone their skills. The one-day program brings together people from nearly all parts of the state to get a hands-on feel for what the National Guard can do on a day-to-day basis.

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Some arrived from Bismarck, Minot, Grand Forks and Fargo via Blackhawk helicopter. Others closer to Devils Lake had the opportunity to take a ride later in the day.

Throughout the day, the group had the opportunity to rappel down a tower, try their hand at the Army’s weapons qualification course via a screen and virtual targets, and tour the classroom space where soldiers learn each day.

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A group of 34 teachers, principals and guidance counselors participated in a tour of Camp Grafton near Devils Lake as a part of an outreach program from the National Guard on Thursday, Aug. 4. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)

Since its beginning, approximately 300 educators have passed through Camp Grafton, First Sgt. Dan Upgren said. The program took a two-year break in 2020 and 2021 because of the coronavirus.

Upgren said the program is important for the National Guard to connect with educators so the educators can tell students about a potential career in the military, if they show interest.

“It’s easy for us to tell educators what everything’s like but it sinks in a lot more when we can actually show them how stuff works,” Upgren said.

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A group of 34 teachers, principals and guidance counselors participated in a tour of Camp Grafton near Devils Lake as a part of an outreach program from the National Guard on Thursday, Aug. 4. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)

Northern Cass Principal Doug Margerum said it was an “eye-opening” trip. He said he had his own impressions of what the National Guard does, but the day helped him get a deeper understanding of everything else that’s involved.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity and that the Guard put something like that on and gave that opportunity to educators to be able to bring this back to the schools,” he said.

Margerum said staff at Northern Cass have become close with a local recruiter, but said he feels it’s even more important for him to be having conversations with students who might show interest in the Guard or might be a good fit for it. He looks forward to sharing his experiences.

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Thompson educators Chris Johnson, top, and Darwin Potter, bottom right, rappel "Aussie style" down a tower on Thursday, Aug. 4 at Camp Grafton. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)

“As we talk about choice-ready with our kids, there’s an opportunity with the military as an option,” he said.

Margerum’s favorite part of the day?

“The helicopter ride was pretty cool,” he chuckled. “But the simulation is up there, the weapons (portion) was pretty interesting. It was a stress reliever, you could sort of say. But technology is just amazing, it’s a giant video game.”

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Chris Johnson, an English teacher from Thompson, takes a photo as a group of educators fly in a Blackhawk helicopter from Grand Forks to Camp Grafton on Thursday, Aug. 4. (Sydney Mook / Grand Forks Herald)

Related Topics: EDUCATIONGFH INSTAGRAM
Sydney Mook has been the managing editor at the Herald since April 2021. In her role she edits and assigns stories and helps reporters develop their work for readers.

Mook has been with the Herald since May 2018 and was first hired as the Herald's higher education reporter where she covered UND and other happenings in state higher education. She was later promoted to community editor in 2019.


For story pitches contact her at smook@gfherald.com or call her at 701-780-1134.
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