Minnesota National Guard soldiers turned nurses reflect on time at Villa St. Vincent

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

Ten Minnesota National Guard soldiers turned nurses arrived in Crookston on December 17 the day before their first shift at the Benedictine's Villa St. Vincent and three weeks later they said farewell after what they called a "rewarding experience." The Times had the opportunity to sit down with guardsmen Karl Runningen, who has been in the military for 25 years (11 in the Army and 14 with the National Guard) and Zach Halvorson, who has been with the National Guard for eight years, just before their mission was complete.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz activated the National Guard in November to create  rapid response teams to help short-staffed nursing homes and Runningen and Halvorson were part of the 400 members that were deployed. Runningen, who is from Bemidji, was trained as a TNA (Temporary Nurse Assistant) at Camp Ripley after a week-long course and Halvorson, who comes from Warren, was trained as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) after an 80-hour course at Lake Superior College in Duluth.

"The state colleges did an awesome job to put together different courses to get us certified and pushed through," said Halvorson.

"Did I ever see myself signing up and doing this? No," he mentioned later. "But it's been a great experience; it's a sense of self-worth giving back to the community."

"It's been a very rewarding experience," Runningen added. "The residents love meeting the prior service people, and the facility and staff have been so warm and welcoming. We didn't expect how awesome they would be, to go above and beyond. We have a much greater appreciation for what health care workers go through especially during the pandemic with overtime and staffing shortages."

"We want to tell the CNAs and nurses thank you for your service," Halvorson continued.

After leaving Crookston, Runningen and Halvorson said it's likely they will go to another facility.

"We'll do the best we can to help these communities; we're happy to do it," they both remarked.

"We were so very privileged to have these ten guard members join our team for the past three weeks," said Amber Lindemoen, Lead Mentor CNA/NAR at the Villa. "They are all so incredibly amazing; each one is hard working, positive, respectful, motivated, smart and kind. We appreciate everything they have done for our residents, their families and our team. Our whole facility will miss them dearly and wish them all of the best."

Minnesota National Guard members who served at the Benedictine's Villa St. Vincent from December 2021 to January 2022