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Minnesota National Guard
Video- Air Guard to deploy 600 to Mideast

Minnesota Air National Guard officials announced Wednesday that more than 600 Minnesota-based pilots and other airmen will be heading for Iraq and Afghanistan in January

About 450 members of the Duluth-based 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard and 160 members of the St Paul-based 133rd Airlift Wing are being deployed for missions extending from one month to four months

The death of three Minnesotans in Iraq this week have served as a reminder of the assignment's danger And on Wednesday in Washington, the Iraq Study Group recommended that ground troops be withdrawn from the country in 2008

The Duluth unit will fly about a dozen supersonic F-16 fighter jets in support of ground troops There are about 30 being flown by US forces in the current operations in the Mideast, said Lt. Col. Mark Vavra, executive officer with the 148th

"I would say we're bringing a significant portion of the fight to the table," Vavra said

The St Paul unit will fly and maintain the hulking C-130 cargo planes, carrying personnel and supplies in the region, including remote areas in Afghanistan

Brig Gen (Select) Timothy Cossalter said many of the airmen will be entering their "second, third or fourth deployment" to the Mideast since the Iraq invasion in March 2003 "Even their fifth," he added

While guard members' thoughts and prayers were with the families of the three Minnesota Soldiers killed this week, Cossalter said, "Someone has to carry on "We understand the risks and the challenges," Cossalter said "We are well prepared and ready to go forward"

Gov Tim Pawlenty, speaking Wednesday to members of the United Veterans Legislative Council at the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis, said that he and other governors believe that National Guard units in the war have been "tapped really hard" and that the Guard has "stretched to a point that it's never been stretched before to the max"

Asked if it was harder to send more Minnesotans given the Study Group's assessment that the war is not going well, Pawlenty said Minnesota's military personnel are "incredible people They're strong and they're dedicated and they put themselves and their families at risk And we need to make sure first and foremost we say thank you to them

"As to the war itself," Pawlenty said, "it's obvious that it's not going as well as everybody had hoped and that a change of course is needed and that the debate is unfolding"

With about 2,600 Minnesota National Guard troops on the ground in Iraq, the deployment will push the number of Minnesota-based Guard members in Iraq to more than 3,000

The Duluth fighter unit deployed 56 airmen in the Mideast this year and more than 400 to 11 countries in 2005, also as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom The St Paul airlift wing was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 and helped with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in 2005

Chief Master Sgt Jim Iverson, 47, of Maiden Rock, Wis, a maintenance supervisor with the St Paul wing, will be heading to Iraq for the fourth time His son, Richard, 25, has completed two tours there with the Army

"Right now, there are so many Minnesota Guards over there, it's easy," Iverson said "We're doing it to support our neighbors and family members It's people you know that you're dealing with"

Maj James Cleet, 38, of St Louis Park, an F-16 pilot with the Duluth wing, will be flying in Iraq for the eighth time, including six tours with the US Air Force before he joined the Minnesota Air National Guard He said the Study Group's declarations about the war haven't swayed him from thinking he's doing "the right thing"Intense political debate is a great thing for any issue touching on our country," he said "And if we can bring more guys home, great"

In the more than 3½ years since the invasion, only two F-16s have come down in Iraq, said Vavra, the Duluth wing's executive One was because of a mechanical problem and one, last week, is still under investigation

However, Pierre Sprey, the Upper Marlboro, Md, man who was a principal designer of the F-16, said in a telephone interview that the plane was designed for air-to-air combat and not for the bombing and other ground support tasks it is assigned to handle in Iraq He said pilots have to fly at an altitude that leaves them vulnerable to ground fire, and too fast to bomb accurately, which results in more collateral damage and ill will

But Cossalter said the accuracy of F-16 weaponry had increased from 10- to 20-percent precision during the Gulf War to "now about 100 percent"

Pawlenty, saying Minnesota must do better for Iraq war veterans than it did for Vietnam vets, told the veterans group that his top budget priority will be providing Iraq veterans with income-tax exemptions for retirement pay, expanded educational benefits, and more help in adjusting to civilian life

Staff researcher Roberta Hovde contributed to this reportBill McAuliffe "¢ 612-673-7646 Dane Smith "¢ 651-292-0164

Source: http://www.startribune.com/462/story/857970.html

In The News: Air Guard Deployment
December 6, 2006
Rob Olson, Fox 9 News

The Minnesota Air National Guard’s 133rd Airlift Wing out of St. Paul and the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth announced their deployment in their efforts to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
(Run time 2:30 )

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