Following exhausting stretch, Minnesota National Guard sees surge in recruitment

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The Minnesota National Guard is recruiting new citizen soldiers at a faster rate than almost every other state in the country.

Last year’s successful recruitment efforts come on the heels of one of the most demanding stretches in the history of the guard.

During an intense two-year span, guard members worked an unprecedented number of days as they responded to the riots following the murder of George Floyd and helped staff nursing homes during the height of COVID-19.

“I think us being out in the community and people seeing what we do when we’re needed is a recruitment tool for us,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Rossman, head of recruiting for the Minnesota National Guard. “I think we’re on the upward trend right now.”

Rossman said that last year, the guard signed up more recruits than every state other than Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania.

More than 1,000 new recruits enlisted, including Logan Paulsen, who was just 17 when she walked into a recruiting office.

“I remember seeing them on TV,” Paulsen said. “That’s how I saw they were helping out within our community, helping deal with everything that was going on and keeping people safe.”

The senior at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria said she was inspired by seeing the guard responding in times of crisis.

“I wanted to be one of those people to help out others,” she said.

Demanding Stretch

Guard members combined to work more than 100,000 days in 2020.

They typically work less than one thousand.

“We’re taking on a lot more than we have in the past,” said Col. Scott Rohweder at the time during an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES.

And that pace continued in 2021 when the guard planned for an unprecedented deployment during the trial of Derek Chauvin as part of a massive security plan called Operation Safety Net.

Rossman said that, especially during the pandemic, it became harder to spread the message about the guard – limiting the number of potential recruits they could reach.

“We weren’t in high schools,” he said. “It took a hit to recruiting.”

They rebounded fast.

Paulsen has pictures from basic training plastered on her bedroom wall – from floor to ceiling – reminding her of the commitment and sacrifice she made for 11 weeks last summer in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina.

“That was the big day,” she said, pointing to a picture of the day they graduated.

The national guard is the only branch of the army or air force that allows 17-year-olds to enlist.

“It was intense,” she said. “There’s a great support system. Everyone is there to help you succeed.”

Paulsen’s mother, Terri Lee, said it was the longest they’ve ever gone without having contact with their daughter.

“She hadn’t been away from home for more than a day or two and then to be gone almost 11 weeks. Ah, yes, there were some tears on our part,” she said.

After graduating from high school this spring, Paulsen will go through another round of job-specific training with the guard and plans to attend college this fall.