MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO will go to any lengths to recognize our Excellent Educators – even if it means flying a hundred miles to Camp Ripley.

Thanks to a pretty slick ride from the Minnesota National Guard, WCCO flew in a Black Hawk helicopter to surprise Master Sgt. Amy Hansen.

Her dedication to helping soldiers respect each other’s differences when it comes to race, religion and sexual orientation is what makes her this week’s Excellent Educator.

On a cold, dreary day in St. Paul, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is ready to assist in this Excellent Educator surprise.

We lift up into the low gray ceiling where pilots rely on their instruments and the tower.

Three crew members, Maj. John Donovan and CCO’s Kim Johnson headed to Camp Ripley, north of Little Falls.

After an hour in the clouds, they emerge to a snow-dusted base.

With certificate in hand it’s time to surprise a true leader in the Minnesota National Guard.

Hansen has spearheaded the Guard’s Equal Opportunity Program. She trains Soldiers in diversity so they can go back and be leaders within their units.

“It’s how we survive, how we work with coworkers, family members, how we raise children, that’s why it’s important for me,” she said.

Hansen is heading this effort during an unprecedented time in the Guard.

“They have had dramatic changes in the Armed Forces in the area of allowing all Americans to serve in the Armed Forces, the dropping of the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the Armed Forces, the dropping of the ban of transgender people serving in the Armed Forces, these have been dramatic changes,” said Maj. John Donovan.

Through her curriculum, Hansen is helping soldiers recognize their own bias, so they can be leaders of inclusion.

“What we’re doing is really embracing all of America to serve no matter what their sexual orientation is, no matter what their race, creed, color, gender we want all Americans to feel welcomed in the Armed Services,” Donovan said.

Perhaps the most important training she’s now focused on is preparing the person who will take over this important role, as Hansen looks ahead to her next mission: retirement.

“I am reaching 20 years in December and it is my intent that I will retire and someone else will come on board and carry it on and teach and train,” she said.

Hansen has been with the Guard since she was 17 and hopes to stay working in the Equal Opportunity field, just doesn’t know where yet. She also is looking forward to spend more time with her kids ages 6 and 2.

Kim Johnson