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Soldiers clean up the trash

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe New soldiers in the Minnesota National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program pick up sticks and trash along the shore of Lake Okabena Saturday afternoon in Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Nearly 40 Army National Guard soldiers from across southwest Minnesota spent their Saturday afternoon in Worthington, clearing garbage from parks and debris from public shoreline as part of the nationwide Guard the Environment program.

Minnesota National Guard members took part in the weekend event at 11 different sites across the state, and many of them will be out again next weekend to do the same.

The Recruit Sustainment Program (RSP) New Ulm detachment that visited Worthington Saturday was comprised of citizen soldiers from New Ulm and Luverne. Many of the soldiers are still in high school -- the youngest at age 17 -- and have not yet completed both their basic training and advanced individual training.

"We thought we'd meet in the middle and do some work," said Staff Sergeant Cameron Jeske of New Ulm. "This is a chance for the National Guard to give back to the community."

The troops worked for five hours, collecting an estimated 1,000 pounds of garbage, branches, twigs and other debris.

It was about a month ago that Sergeant First Class Shawn Kor, also a southwest Minnesota recruiter, contacted the City of Worthington about conducting a community service project in town. National Guard soldiers get credit for performing volunteer work, and this is one way for them to earn it.

The unit was directed to Genny Turner of the Lake Okabena Improvement Association.

The LOIA hosts an annual lake clean-up event in the spring, but there was certainly enough work for the soldiers to do on a beautiful mid-October day.

"The rains have washed a lot of new garbage into the lake area," said Turner, who provided the soldiers with maps highlighting the areas they were to target.

Plans for the soldiers to canoe the lake and retrieve garbage had to be cancelled due to winds that gusted to 30 miles per hour, however, the soldiers may return next spring to complete that task.

If that happens, Turner said she'd like to organize an event in which community volunteers can work side by side with the soldiers.

"When (Kor) called two weeks ago, it didn't leave us enough time to pull off a full event," she said. "As a lake association, when we ask for volunteers, we get them from age four on up."

Turner said having a group of people who "are fit" is a great asset because they can retrieve items that are a challenge for most volunteers, such as excessively water-logged materials they find in the lake.

She was pleased with the number of soldiers who came to volunteer, as was Mayor Alan Oberloh who, along with his wife Janice, met with the soldiers at Centennial Park.

"We never expected this many would show up," said Mayor Oberloh. "We thought 10 or 15 soldiers would come. This is pretty neat."

Clad in military fatigues, the soldiers covered approximately three miles of public shore front along Lake Okabena and Sunset Bay, and canvassed most of the public places around the lake, including Chautauqua, Centennial and Freedom Shore parks, Sailboard Beach and Olson Park Campground.

"This is a way for us to get back out in the community and help out a little bit," said Kor, who has ties to the community.

Together, the soldiers picked up everything from diapers along the shoreline to shoes, flip flops, shorts, a grill grate, battery cover and thousands of cigarette butts.

"Nothing surprises me what's found," said Turner, who has organized the LOIA's clean-up efforts for the past three years. "The winds we get in southwest Minnesota blow crazy things into the lake."

Bags and gloves were provided to the soldiers through the Minnesota Adopt-A-River and Lakes program of the Department of Natural Resources. The LOIA is a program member, and receives supplies from the DNR for its spring clean-ups as well.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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