Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

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


Snowbanks and covered wagons...

Posted 9/08/15 (Tue)

I spent 35 years in the U.S. military and had the privilege of traveling around the world on the taxpayers’ dime numerous times.

There was also a lot of travel within the United States.

As anyone who was in the military knows, continuing education is important and we’re often sent to obscure locations to train.

There’s basic NCO school, at least that’s what it was called while I was there. There was basic NCO phase II, advanced NCO, advanced NCO phase II, first sergeant school and finally the sergeants major academy.

But it doesn’t stop there. Anytime someone pursues a new military occupation specialty, they have to go to school and get trained in that capacity.

In my career, I held five military occupation specialties; personnel management at Fort Harrison, Indiana, nuclear, biological, chemical at Presidio of San Francisco, combat engineer at Devils Lake, military journalist, Fort Meade, Maryland and finally, officer candidate instructor, Camp Grafton. My basic training was carried out at Fort Knox, Ky.

For officers, they probably go to fewer “schools” but when they are there it is intense.

The point in all this is in all the places that I’ve been in 35 years; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Fort Carson, Colorado, Fort Riley, Kansas,  Fort Drum, New York and MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida, when people found out I was from North Dakota I would get the same type of response, no matter what.

People from all over the country would come to these “schools” and we were often mixed together as one class whether we were from New Hampshire or Guam.

And in all those places, all those people, it was always, “how do you live up there, it’s so cold up there?” or “man, there ain’t nothin’ in North Dakota.”

When I was at Fort Knox, other Soldiers would ask me about hostile Indians, do we have electricity, are there paved roads and how do you keep warm at night?

It didn’t take me long to figure out I could have some fun with this and I did.

I told them my mother would always drive the covered wagon to Bismarck so my dad could watch out the back for hostile Indians.

I told them there were no airplanes. We would have to take the wagon to Minneapolis or Denver to board a plane for someplace.

I also told them that after grain was harvested, it was moved down the river on barges, but there were often “pirates” on the river so there were decoy ships.

And people believed it. I guess if they were naive enough to ask the questions in the first place...?

But I would also often ask them, how do you know it’s so cold in North Dakota, how do you know there ain’t nothin’ up there?

The answer would always come back, “because it is.”

Since I’ve retired and have made frequent trips to the Minot Air Force Base, I’ve come to find out there have been airmen who have committed military suicide just to avoid Minot.

In other words, they will let their contract expire first, go AWOL, plead to be trasferred someplace else or invent a hardship so they won’t be sent to Minot Air Force Base.

Where do you suppose that notion comes from?

Unfortunately, it’s all perceived because when the media reports on an extreme such as 40 below zero, then people perceive it to always be that way.

There were often times I would point out to people that “it’s warmer in Bismarck today than it is in Miami.”

When oil development started and all these people started popping up like mushrooms from Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and California, we didn’t hear any of that North Dakota is too cold psychobabble.

Apparently, money trumps perceived cold weather because in the three years I was editor of the newspaper in New Town, never once did I hear any such talk.

But throughout my military career, I heard it constantly, over and over again until it became disgusting to me that people would be that naive or misinformed.

There’s also the other side of the coin in which those Air Force people who do get shipped to Minot, often like it here and stay here after their military careers.

The stereotypes are just that. They come from media reports that are erroneous and sometimes sensational.

During the 1997 record winter, Gov. Ed Schafer was on national TV on top a 12-foot snowbank near the Bismarck Civic Center. That image became etched in the minds of everyone in America.