Military members from Maple Grove and surrounding communities have served and continue to serve our country with bravery and dedication. Their commitment is matched by a local volunteer effort to comfort and support hometown military families. In July, Maple Grove was proclaimed a Beyond the Yellow Ribbon (BTYR) Community. An extensive 16-step process earned this designation. It marks the beginning of creating and sustaining a comprehensive support network to connect and coordinate agencies, organizations and resources to meet the needs of service members, veterans and military families.
The first Minnesota yellow ribbon community was proclaimed in 2008. The initial goal of these communities was to honor and embrace those affected by military deployments since 9/11. As thousands of Minnesotans continue to serve our country, the scope of Beyond the Yellow Ribbon support has expanded to enable soldiers to have a successful transition all the way home.
Joel Skagerberg attended an initial meeting to get a BTYR network going in Maple Grove. He immediately stepped up to be a co-chair of a 12-person committee committed to championing the cause. “My son-in-law, Nick Turcotte, an Army National Guard member, was killed in action in 2006,” says Skagerberg. “Seeing what it was like for my daughter to be on her own while her husband was deployed, and also after his death, made me realize how much military family members need to know others are here to help.”
Dave and Betsy Turcotte are Nick Turcotte’s grandparents. They were quickly on board with BTYR efforts as a way to honor their late grandson’s memory. Betsy contacts veterans and faith based organizations to spread the word about BTYR. “We’ve seen what Nick’s battle buddies have gone through and what other Gold Star families have gone through,” she says, adding that Gold Star families are those who have lost family members in war. “We want to help however we can.”
Dave Turcotte served in the Navy for six years during the war in Vietnam. “I enjoyed being a military wife,” Betsy says. “But we lived in Rhode Island where there was a huge Navy base and a built-in support system.” There is no military base in Minnesota. That’s why people like the Turcottes believe Beyond the Yellow Ribbon is so important. “BTYR aims to be a central source of support for local military families,” says Betsy. “To quickly provide whatever is needed and do it with care.”
John Torma is also a Vietnam veteran and the manager of the Osseo-Maple Grove American Legion. He coordinates Legion efforts with BTYR. “The Legion wanted to get involved with BTYR because we want to do what we can to help veterans,” he says. So far, volunteers have helped build a deck for a veteran, helped military families find housing and even provided a veteran with gas money to get to a job interview. “At some point, we all need help,” Torma says. “And that is what BTYR is here for.”
Sue Bringgold is a BTYR co-chair and is also a Blue Star mom. (Blue Star families are those with deployed military family members) Bringgold’s son, Sergeant Tom Jacobsen graduated from Maple Grove High School in 2010. He joined the Army immediately after graduation and served his first tour in Iraq at age 19.
“At first, I didn’t like the idea of my son joining the military,” says Bringgold. “But if my son doesn’t serve, it would be someone else’s son.” That said, Bringgold couldn’t just sit around while her son was overseas. She got involved with BTYR because she believes the community needs to take care of its service members and veterans.
“Fear of appearing weak can make it difficult to identify military families who need our help,” says Bringgold. She hopes increased awareness of BTYR will encourage those in need, along with willing volunteers, to reach out.
Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’s Facebook page is active and provides easy
access to Beyond the Yellow Ribbon volunteers ready and willing to help
military families and veterans. The group also hopes to grow its
volunteer directory. If you’re interested in volunteering, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or simply post a message on the organization’s
Sergeant Tom Jacobsen
13 Bravo Artillery Division
United States Army
Sergeant Jacobsen went straight to basic training two weeks after graduating from Maple Grove High School in 2010. He was 18 years old. “I’ve always wanted to enlist,” says Jacobson. “I remember my dad telling stories about his military service when I was little. I thought those stories were cool.”
Jacobsen notes times have changed. The world and warfare are not what he remembers from his dad’s stories. But still, he wouldn’t change a thing. “I like working for America,” Jacobsen says. “I plan to re-enlist for another four years and hopefully be a part of what holds our country together.”
Jacobsen’s first deployment was to Iraq for five months in 2011. It was a short deployment meant to shut down operations and recover vehicles and equipment.
Jacobsen had never been outside the United States before. “It was very different over there. No freedom. Everything seemed tightly controlled by extreme religion,” he says. “There was also desperate poverty and people walking the streets with weapons.”
Jacobsen has always had a great appreciation for life in the United States. His service in Iraq reinforced his gratitude for life in America.
When not deployed, Jacobsen lives at Fort Bliss, Texas with his wife, Mallory, also a Maple Grove graduate. “I don’t have a 9-5 job,” says Jacobsen. “But we mostly have a normal life. Mallory is very supportive of my choice to serve in the armed forces. She has her own job and is confident she can find work wherever military life takes us.”
Major Rich Brummond
34th Combat Aviation Brigade
Minnesota Army National Guard
Major Brummond joined the Army, active duty, at 18 years old and then at 23 years old, he entered the National Guard. He had family members in the military. But it was his desire for college money and a bit of adventure that encouraged Brummond to sign up for military service. Today, Brummond is a 38 year old Army National Guard pilot who believes his service to country has been rewarded with schooling, health care, money for a home and opportunities to see many parts of the world.
His travels have included deployments to Bosnia and Iraq. Bosnia was a peace keeping mission; Brummond went there as a pilot who performed the duties of a civil affairs officer. “I didn’t know much about the position,” Brummond says. “But I learned to help evaluate and monitor the impact of our ground units on the civilian population and vice versa. Being in Bosnia to help people and being impactful in a positive way was a cool experience.”
Iraq was different. That deployment sent Brummond into a combat zone while leaving a wife and baby at home. He explains the dichotomy of needing to focus on the things that keep a soldier safe and effective while in the field, balanced against the worry over hearth and home. “We didn’t have BTYR in Maple Grove when I went to Iraq,” says Brummond. “Today, military spouses have support right in the communities where they live.”
Brummond and his wife Corinne are pleased to be part of a community that rallies around its military families and veterans. “It’s about people giving their time and talent,” says Corinne. “With help, we can offer military families things like childcare, transportation and home repairs.” She notes BTYR also hopes to gather volunteer skilled designers and craftsmen to help design and build a veterans memorial in Maple Grove. “A memorial would celebrate our area veterans and serve as a gathering spot for Veterans Day and Memorial Day services,” she says.
World War II Veteran, Earl Hoppenrath
7th Armored Division
United States Army
A historic photograph of returning World War II veterans was taken in Osseo in 1946. The Maple Grove Historical Preservation Society preserves it. Pictured among these heroes, at 23 years old, is Earl Hoppenrath of Maple Grove. Earl turns 91 years old this November. He and his wife Virginia are active supporters of veteran causes and proudly honor our country’s flag at every opportunity.
Earl entered the war after two years of receiving a farm deferment. He could have continued farming, but decided it was his turn to serve his country. When asked which branch of the military he’d prefer, Army or Navy, Earl said he could walk farther than he could swim. And so he was off to 17 weeks of infantry training at Camp Campbell in Arkansas. From there, Earl was sent to England. He marched with his division through France, Belgium and into Germany.
Earl remembers sleeping on ground too frozen to dig a proper foxhole. Instead, he and his comrades would scrape snow from the surface and settle in for a bitter cold night’s sleep. His days were spent marching and making roads from cut trees to provide passage of U.S. tanks. Combat situations typically involved being shot at by Germans holed up in reinforced guard posts called pillboxes.
Virginia says her husband hasn’t volunteered much information over the years about his time at war. She does recall overhearing a conversation between Earl and her brother, who served in the Korean War and is now deceased. “I heard mention of battles with bayonets,” she says. “Both men were in tears.”
“It’s true,” says Earl. “Whenever we were ordered to affix our bayonets, our stomachs would churn.”
Earl returned home after an explosion of what he calls a tank stopper bomb left shrapnel damage in his right ankle. Among other medals, Earl was awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injury and he marches with other Purple Heart recipients each Memorial Day at Fort Snelling.
Despite the uncomfortable conditions, sometimes frightening combat situations and an injury, Earl is not sorry he signed up to serve his country. “I’d do it all again,” he says. “Military service teaches us that freedom isn’t free and provides a sense of dedication to our country.”
Not long ago, the Hoppenraths were outside a Maple Grove grocery store collecting donations to support the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which aids wounded veterans. A store customer asked to hug Earl upon discovering he was a Purple Heart recipient. “She said the whole world should appreciate the service of these heroes,” says Virginia. Volunteers for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon would agree.
At the conclusion of World War II, in 1946, a photo was taken of service members from the Osseo/Maple Grove area. This image stands as testament to the past and continuing service of members of our armed troops, and those who honor their service by supporting active military and their families. On this Veteran’s Day, we salute you all.