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Tom Mortenson

Mortenson hits ground running

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Detroit Lakes Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501 http://www.dl-online.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/5/0304/2-23-tom-martenson-cmyk.jpg?itok=pDUhVxl_
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Mortenson hits ground running
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

One day at 10 a.m., he is handing over his keys to the U.S. Central Command, telling them everything he knows about how to handle the situation in Egypt.

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The next day at 8 a.m., he is taking the keys that open up the door to the Becker County Administrator's office.

Tom Mortenson took the job in Detroit Lakes on Feb. 1, bringing with him a resume that could almost blind you.

Mortenson was born and raised in Racine, Wis., where he met his wife, Pam and earned a bachelor's degree in history and master's degrees in both public administration and political science.

He served on the city council, eventually becoming the council president.

He developed and passed the first ethics code for the city's government, which he says became the model for the state of Wisconsin as well.

The couple then moved to Temple Terrace, Fla., where Mortenson worked as the city's building and zoning director and community development director.

He served the city as it tripled in size.

During that time, he also held managerial positions for large corporations, including becoming one of the top 20 salesmen worldwide for Johnson Wax and General Manager of Unisource.

Already a National Guardsman, Mortenson then decided to give the military his full-time attention.

Starting out as a public relations officer, Mortenson worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming a full-bird colonel.

He served on the personal staff of such famous military leaders as General David Petraeus and General Tommy Franks.

Colonel Mortenson was one of the eight key planners who orchestrated the operations into both Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, he was given the responsibility of writing up the procedure to be followed in the event that Iraq would surrender to the United States.

"No country had surrendered to us since World War II, so they wanted me to write up exactly how that should be done," he says.

Of course, that never happened because the entire Iraqi government collapsed, leaving no official to follow through with an actual surrender.

Still, it was just one more story of accomplishment this solider has to tell.

"It's given me the ability to work on complex issues ranging from providing medical services and clean water to dealing with terrorism and insurgent organization," he said.

His duties included dealing with intelligence issues and the evacuation in Lebanon of American citizens in 2006, to the possible defense of the Suez canal in the current crisis, and even reporting to the president on how many horses the Northern Alliance had in Afghanistan.

Mortenson says he believes all this gave him the ability to manage diverse organizations with different purposes.

Then, in 2005, he took on another purpose as he accepted the position of Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer for the Army Reserve, where he handled a number of hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina.

"That was one of the busiest hurricane seasons in Florida's history, so I got to know and became close personal friends with the emergency manager for the state of Florida, Craig Fugate," he said.

Mortenson's friend, Craig, is now the director of FEMA.

After nearly 40 years in the Army, Col. Mortenson made a transition into the civilian sector with a one-year stint as a defense contractor for the Army's Central Command.

During that time he was handling the growing tensions in Egypt and Bahrain.

Six months into that job, he saw a posting in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota for county administrator.

"I already had a house here, because a couple of years ago my daughter, who lives here with her husband and two sons, called and said, "There's a house here that I think Mom would love."

Mortenson may have been in charge of Army units across the world, but the women in his life hold a lot of power with him.

So, with a house already in place and his hat in the ring for the county position, Mortenson kept one eye on Egypt, and one eye on Becker County.

"I used those six months to do a lot of research on the area, the history, and the issues facing the community," he said.

It is a community Mortenson says he grew to love more and more every time he came to see his grandsons.

"Until you come here from outside you really don't understand what a treasure you have. The community is rich with people who care, who talked to you and respect each other," he said. "Family structure is strong here, you find beautiful natural resources ... lakes, fishing and hunting that is superior to most places in the world."

After months of candidate research and background checks, (which Mortenson saw as almost humorous, given his top military clearance) he was offered the job.

He and Pam left their two grown sons, their condo, and the warm weather in Florida to begin the next chapter of their lives.

Mortenson says he always likes to hit the ground running, and the icy sidewalks of Detroit Lakes are not slowing him down.

He is already laying the groundwork for a new county recycling center, and is busy introducing himself to just about every group or club in town in order to begin dialogue between him and his new community.

"This is a legacy to my grandchildren. To other people it's a job, but to me, what I do here will affect my grandchildren, my daughter, and the whole community. That is why I don't want to develop plans for the moment; I want to plan for the future."

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