On Monday, Sept. 10, 2001, 135 police officers from around the country converged upon Camp Ripley near Little Falls to learn the skills of properly honoring officers killed in the line of duty.
One of the instructors was Rich Berg, who in 2001 was a four-year veteran of the Big Lake Police Department.
Little did Berg know when the week-long training opened that Monday, that a day later many of his students would be rushed from Camp Ripley to be deployed into action.
After the terrorist attacks in the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Berg and his team switch from teaching about honoring fallen police officers to working feverishly to deploy officers to New York to assist in rescue and recovery efforts.
“All military bases became active while we were at Camp Ripley,” Berg recalled. “We were flying military units out of there for a week. We were helping people fly out and were also taking people down to the cities to catch flights.”
Berg was inspired to joined the state honor guard after a classmate in the police enforcement program at Alexandria Technical College in Alexandria was killed in the line of duty.
That officer was Brian Kleinfelter of the St. Joseph Police Department, a department on the outskirt of St. Cloud. Klinefelter was shot and killed while attempting to arrest three suspects who had just robbed a liquor store.
A year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, for a service on the first anniversary of the attacks, Berg was invited to the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. where he stood alongside President George Bush, Jr. as a member of the honor guard that presented the colors during the ceremony.
“It was one of the most moving times of my life,” Berg said.
Back in Big Lake in September of 2001, Berg returned to the police department after wrapping up duties at Camp Ripley.
Despite Big Lake’s long history of being very pro-police, the support for the police and fire departments in Big Lake surprised Berg.
“I came home to lots of cards, well-wishes, and signs in my yard,” Berg recalled. “My neighbors were appreciative of the work I do.”
Berg said being a police officer was a job everyone wanted again.
Around town, both children and adults were proud of their community’s police officers.
Berg says he would go to his squad car and find messages of support written in chalk on the pavement.
“And I didn’t pay for lunch for weeks,” he said. People and businesses were picking up the tab, but we never knew who it was because it was always anonymous.”
At city functions, there was a renewed nod to law enforcement and recognition of all we go through on behalf of the community, he added.
Berg says that as a police officer, he couldn’t live through the 9-11 experience and not be affected.
“It was one of those defining moments in a police officer’s career,” he said.
As a matter of fact, there isn’t a week where Berg says he doesn’t think about 9-11 or look back on his personal experiences from it- including those with the honor guard.
“Being in a group that learned from us how to carry a casket to its final resting place, and then having those skills put to use because of 9-11, resulted in many defining moments,” Berg said.
Reach Jeff Hage at firstname.lastname@example.org