Johnson working at Ripley, will be sent to Gulf Coast in a week

Brig. Gen. Dean E. Johnson of Willmar will be at Camp Ripley today and Friday to aid in preparations for several thousand evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

Brig. Gen. Dean E. Johnson of Willmar will be at Camp Ripley today and Friday to aid in preparations for several thousand evacuees from the Gulf Coast.

Johnson is a Lutheran pastor and Army National Guard chaplain serving as special assistant to the U.S. Army chief of chaplains. He is also the majority leader of the Minnesota Senate.

The state has agreed to host 3,000 people displaced by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Johnson said they are expected to begin arriving late this week or over the weekend.

In his job as a military chaplain, he will be at Ripley "to support and minister to soldiers and their families," he said.

The distinction between military and civilian clergy is quite clear in such situations, and civilian clergy will be available to work with the displaced people, he said.


Likewise, the Guard has 100 chaplains deployed in the areas affected by the hurricane to help soldiers and their families.

Johnson will be going to Louisiana and Mississippi a week from Monday.

"I think some of the most difficult situations are about to arise" as floodwaters recede, he said.

The chaplains will be rotated every two weeks, and he will be deployed with the "second wave," he said.

Military personnel stationed in the area may have lost homes, and those deployed to help with rescue and recovery efforts are likely to be traumatized by what they've seen, and chaplains will be available for them.

"We'll just have to suck it up and be strong and encouraging," he said.

Johnson said he also hopes to contact church leaders of Peace Lutheran Church in Slidell, La., if he has time while serving in that area. The church was demolished by the storm, and the congregation's pastor is missing.

Johnson said he's spent some time trying to figure out how the storm and its aftermath could affect Minnesota's economy.


"This is multifaceted," Johnson said of hosting the evacuees.

The state's budget could be affected in many ways, he said. People at first may need Medical Assistance, the state's Medicaid program, and they will need help finding housing and jobs. Schools with more students will receive more state aid.

In addition, many of the people have been traumatized and are likely to experience some culture shock.

"Hopefully, our friendliness will overshadow our cold weather," he said.

Johnson met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, on Wednesday to review the state's emergency preparedness plans.

"I suspect many states are reviewing their policies, and it's a good idea," he said. "If there are things we need to pay attention to, now is the time."

Johnson said he didn't expect other issues to come up during the meeting. Recent talk of a short special legislative session this fall may be on hold for now. "I don't think the energy is centered on that," he said.

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