How would you feel if your neighbors just announced plans to build a machine gun range in their back yard?

If you're a resident in Morrison County, maybe not as bad as you might think.

The Minnesota National Guard's training facility at Camp Ripley will be building a $3.8 million machine gun range on 40 acres of land next year. There will be machine gun emplacements, observation stations, trenches and mortar emplacements, according to papers recently filed with the state.

At 53,000 acres, Camp Ripley is one of the largest military training facilities in North America. Even with its size -- or maybe because of it -- the Guard and the locals have developed a close relationship over the years. Besides military training, Ripley has been made available for public safety training for local police and fire departments. The Minnesota Department of Transportation and local public works departments use its expanses for snowplow training. The Guard has representatives on local Chambers of Commerce and tourism boards. Boy Scouts use Camp Ripley. It has an award-winning environmental program.

It's a smart thing when much of what you do involves blowing things up, knocking things down, or flying things out.

Little Falls Mayor Cathy Van Risseghem is an enthusiastic supporter of Camp Ripley, particularly when it pours more than $200 million a year into the economy. "Sometimes during the summer you can hear a little bit of bombing, but you don't notice them," she said. "It's like having a giant convention center in your back yard. It just has a little different twist to it."

The April and May schedule for Camp Ripley has more than 50 briefings set up for local communities and major businesses. It's part of recognizing that members of the Guard are both civilians and soldiers.

"We know that we wear the uniform; we have a federal, a state and a community mission, and we don't want to be seen as a separate entity," said Lt. Col. Todd Kubista, deputy commander at Camp Ripley.

Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434