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Army Reserve breaks ground for new facility

Brig. Gen. Frank Cipolla spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday to a crowd of citizens and reservists.

"It's more of a ceremonial dirt move," explained a crowd member on Sunday at the Army Reserve Center groundbreaking in Hammond.

About 30 citizens, special guests and soldiers gathered for the ceremony in a snow covered corn field in Hammond's industrial park. Temperatures at about 10 degrees, plus a chilly breeze, kept the ceremony abbreviated.

The reserve center is expected to be completed by April 30, 2010. Construction by the Selmer Company of Green Bay will begin as soon as the ground thaws enough to dig, probably in April.

The center will be more than just buildings, remarked Brig. Gen. Frank Cipolla during the ceremony. It will memorialize Spc. Bert Hoyer, of Ellsworth, and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Gabrielson, of Spooner. Both were killed in Iraq during the 652nd's last tour from February 2003-June 2004.

"The new facility will serve as a lasting physical dedication to the lives of those two soldiers and, in keeping with the Army's theme of the 'Year of the Non-Commissioned Officer,' will continue to inspire young soldiers like Bert Hoyer to become the leaders of their units like Sgt. 1st Class Gabrielson was," Cipolla said.

The $7 million, 26,092-square-foot training facility will provide the 100 members of the 652nd Engineer Company with administrative, educational, assembly, library, learning center, vault, weapons simulator and physical fitness areas.

A maintenance shop will provide heated work bays. There will also be an unheated storage shed and a large parking lot for both military and privately-owned vehicles.

A staff of three or four full-time employees will handle administrative duties at the location, said Bruce Barrett, project manager with the 88th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Snelling.

The new location is being warmly welcomed by the reservists, especially since their current station in Ellsworth is one of the worst in the Army, said 1st Lt. Kyle Lundequam. Part of the Ellsworth facility was even closed off because of asbestos.

"They need it. It's definitely a good thing," said Lundequam.

The company has been stationed in Ellsworth for nearly 40 years. Although they will miss the support of the Ellsworth community, the new location in Hammond has many benefits, he said.

The easy access to I-94 will be a plus, especially when traveling in their slow moving equipment.

"It's a quick jaunt," Lundequam said of the distance from the interstate to their location.

It will also be convenient for soldiers traveling to the base for their weekend training, he said. The majority of the reservists in the 652nd travel from other locations, including the Twin Cities and Michigan.

The I-94 access was one of the main reasons the selection committee chose Hammond, said Larry Means, director of logistics at Fort Snelling and site selection committee member.

Another deciding factor was the infrastructure, he said. "That was a big word for me."

The location already has village utilities and a sewer interceptor nearby. Other possible locations, like Spring Valley and Prescott, would have required the reserve to pay to bring those components to the site, Means said.

The process of selecting a site began about a year and a half ago. The committee spent a day traveling to the different spots, Means said. The committee then voted, and the winning spot was recommended to the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps handled the next steps.

Village of Hammond President Vince Trudell said the 652nd's move to Hammond is a good fit for everybody.

"If one person comes here, it's an impact," he said.

Cipolla said the center will serve the community as well as the soldiers who use it. The Army Reserve Center can be used for refuge, class space and meeting rooms.

"When we build a reserve center, it is not only for that unit or group of units. We build a center to support the community, state and indeed our nation. Through the construction, we are keeping people employed while offering additional employment opportunities to others. We are contributing in a small but important way, to the lifeblood of St. Croix County and the state of Wisconsin," he said.

Gen. Perry Nistler said the Army has seen communities grow dramatically after having a base built in them.

"It will help," he said. The soldiers will have an economic impact on the community by purchasing things like gas and food, he said.

Soldiers from the 652nd will be headed to Iraq as a filler unit in the coming months. Just how many are going and the length of their stay has not yet been released.

When they get back, they may be welcomed to a new home.