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NORTH VERNON — Soldiers at Muscatatuck Urban Training Complex moved up and down streets lined by buildings bearing the flags of Middle Eastern nations.
Indiana State Police troopers used the facility for training, and members of North Vernon’s Police Department drove through the front gates for an afternoon of intense training.
At the same time, the neighboring civilian community arrived April 3 for a ceremony to honor the complex for its military role and what the facility has meant to the Jennings County community.
North Vernon Mayor Harold “Soup” Campbell, Jennings County civic leader Tom Taylor, members of the Jennings County Foundation and others gathered to present plaques to staff at the military installation near Butlerville.
Lt. Col. Dale Lyles, the complex’s site manager, welcomed the community leaders into the MUTC Museum, where the Indiana National Guard maintains mementos of the years MUTC first served as a state hospital, formerly known as the Muscatatuck State Developmental Center.
After the state closed the hospital, large buildings that served as medical facilities, dorms, housing, schools and even churches were deserted but left standing across rolling acres of well-groomed lawns.
The U.S. Army determined the 1,000-acre remote site in Jennings County would be ideal for training soldiers in an urban environment. Since 2005, the Indiana National Guard has operated the site as an urban training environment for soldiers, police agencies, first responders and a variety of civilian groups and agencies.
In addition to year-round urban training, the National Guard for three years operated the Patriot Academy in the building once used as a school for patients during the site’s days as a hospital. The Patriot Academy was designed to help soldiers who had not graduated from high school attain their high school degree. More than 500 soldiers from across the nation graduated from the academy.
Part of the curriculum included community service in the surrounding communities. More than 15,000 hours of community service were performed by academy students during the three years it operated.
“It was a good program, and they were good people. They came into our community and helped to make it better,” Campbell said about the students. “I think we also contribute to a program that helped create good, productive people who will be able to maintain good, productive families.”
Taylor recalled occasions when the Patriot Academy students came into the Jennings County community.
“They were good examples. They were good examples of soldiers, and they were good examples of students.”
In appreciation, neighboring communities raised money for a series of plaques in honor of the Patriot Academy. The plaques will be displayed on the walls of the museum.
The Patriot Academy was considered a success but was discontinued because of government financial cutbacks.
Following the brief ceremony, Lyles returned to his office to prepare the complex for the busy summer season of training. The recent cutbacks in government spending will not negatively affect training at Muscatatuck, he said.
“We will be busier this year than last, probably busier than we have ever been,” Lyles said.
The North Vernon Police Department added to the busy schedule at the facility. On April 3, 10 members of the force were using a row of buildings designed to replicate civilian homes for their training. They were practicing safely breaking through a door during an emergency situation.
“We come here to train often. This is one of the best training sites in the nation, and it’s right here in our own back yard,” Sgt. Craig Kipper said.
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