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Olmsted deputy prepares to train Iraqi police

By Mike Dougherty

The Post-Bulletin

Whether he’s in the harsh climate of a Minnesota winter or the hot, sandy winds of Iraq, Ken Wickelgren’s work is the same: training cops.

Wickelgren, 47, a detective with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, is in final preparations for a trip to Iraq for a one-year stint training Iraqi police officers.

"I feel like if I can do something to help train the Iraqi police, and that can get our kids home a little sooner, then the time is right in my life to be able to do it," Wickelgren said. "I’ll miss my friends and family, but this is something good I can do."

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Wickelgren, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, spent this past Saturday training students in crime scene processing at a class at Rochester Community and Technical College.

The idea of teaching overseas was something that first occurred to Wickelgren, he said, when Sheriff Steve Borchardt passed along a notice from overseas contractor DynCorp several years ago. DynCorp was looking for experienced law enforcement officials to help train law enforcement in Iraq.

"My feeling was if the sheriff thought it was worth passing along, it was worth looking at," he said.

At the time, Wickelgren, who has two sons, didn’t feel he and his family were quite at the right point in their lives for him to leave for an extended period. But, now, three years later, Joseph, 25, and Sean, 20, are both established and secure, Wickelgren said. In fact, Sean, is in the U.S. Navy and is preparing to head overseas, possibly in or around Iraq.

"Sean said, ‘I’ll protect you when you’re over there, Dad,’" Wickelgren said.

DynCorp, a private company, received a multimillion-dollar contract from the U.S. State Department to advise the Iraqi government on setting up effective law enforcement, judicial and correctional agencies. DynCorp is expected to hire 1,000 U.S. civilian law enforcement experts to help in Iraq. Wickelgren said he will go through three weeks of training before going to Iraq, where he will work among U.S. military.

Wickelgren will take a year’s unpaid leave of absence from his job with the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office will shuffle existing personnel during his absence, said Steve Von Wald, Olmsted’s chief deputy.

Von Wald said Wickelgren is well-suited for the job that awaits him.

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"Ken is a trainer and a seasoned veteran, and this happens to be one of those times where the timing is good in his life to do this," Von Wald said. "We’ve always encouraged our people to be trainers. Oodles of our folks train students at the community college. And we’ve always felt that training others makes them better employees."

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