HUGO — Over the last 10 years, the Hugo Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Network (BTYRN) has sent out 44,000 pounds of care packages to deployed solders and helped military members and their families with countless requests.
“We are so very proud of the relationship between the city of Hugo, the Hugo BTYRN program and the Minnesota National Guard. It has been an amazing relationship,” said Adjutant General, Major General Jon Jensen. “As (BTYRN Chair) Chuck Haas was going through all the different activities that have taken place over the last 10 years, it became apparent to me that they have either connected with, or at least provided the opportunity to connect with, every member of the Minnesota National Guard, all 13,000 of us, which is just an amazing accomplishment.”
Over 100 people attended the Hugo BTRN's 10th anniversary celebration Tuesday, June 25, at the place where it all began, City Hall. County Commissioner Gary Kriesel (District 3) suggested Hugo get involved in the program and Haas thought that was a great idea. In June of 2009, more than 100 people met to learn more about the BTYRN program.
At the time, Hugo resident Marilyn Stomberg was already sending care packages overseas through a group she called Operation Military Pride. “She hooked up with us and got us started sending care packages,” Haas explained.
The Hugo BTYRN program was one of the first chapters established in Minnesota. The first was Farmington, and Hugo, Stillwater and Woodbury were second, all proclaimed chapters on the same day.
In addition to care packages, the Hugo BTYRN is well known for its Welcome Home the Troops pheasant hunts and since 2010, has also hosted welcome home events for every Minnesota National Guard unit that has returned from deployment. “We have raised over $400,000 to do that and hosted over 2,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen,” Haas said.
The Hugo chapter is also known for its Hamburger Nights, which are hosted on the fourth Wednesday of the month. In addition to acting as a fundraiser, Haas said, “It keeps the community aware that we still have soldiers deployed and they and their families need our support.”
The Hugo BTYRN has helped with moving, medical bills, transportation needs, home improvement projects, repairs, lawn maintenance and landscaping, pet sitting and more.
“Many chapters are tied to a specific unit, but since Hugo is not really associated with a specific unit, they have really taken advantage of the mobilizations and deployments of all of our units and the whole military community,” Jensen said. “That's what makes them unique. They have reached out to Duluth, Mankato, St. Cloud and everywhere in between.” The Hugo BTYRN has even reached beyond state lines as well.
Over the past 10 years, the chapter has continued to expand its reach. “Our reputation has grown because when people ask us to do something we do it,” Haas explained. The chapter's ability to serve has also grown, thanks to generous donations from organizations such as the Hugo and White Bear Lake Lions and donations from community members and businesses.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said, “(Haas) grew the Hugo BTYRN far beyond any other community that I have seen. Ten years later and they are still the most active BTYRN group I know. They will send out an email saying somebody needs help and by the time I put my fingers on the keyboard, he has already got it taken care of.” Orput credits the success of the chapter to both Haas and co-chair Phil Klein.
“Only 1% of our citizens are in uniform so it is easy to forget their sacrifices and what they are doing. That's what I would like everybody to keep that in mind,” Haas said. “If you have got a loved one deployed and they want to get a care package, or their family needs some support, reach out and get some help, that is why we are here, that's what we do.” Haas can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are so very appreciative of that commitment, of that effort. We couldn't be prouder to be affiliated with the Hugo Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program and all of the great people involved in that. Our hats are certainly off,” Jensen said.
Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or email@example.com.