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Minnesota National Guard
Red Bulls prepare for Iraq duty

Training exercises at Camp Ripley, Minn, are preparing Minnesota National Guard soldiers for a deployment in Iraq

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In this Nov 20, 2010 photo, a member of the Minnesota 34th Infantry "Red Bulls" brigade struggles to align the sights with the target during weapon familiarity training at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, Minn (AP Photo/Minnesota Public Radio, Nikki Tundel)

CAMP RIPLEY, Minn — On a recent training day at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, the frigid morning air whips into a Humvee through an open hatch Pfc Timothy Duel, 29, stands in the rotating gunner turret

Duel pivots to survey the terrain around him It’s a vast expanse of dry Minnesota swampland that’s meant to look like a scene from Iraq

The Humvee stops near a practice range where Pfc Donnie Cadwalader, 28, helps Duel load the M-240 with live ammunition The weapon can fire as many as 950 rounds per minute

He lowers his body over the machine gun, presses his cheek up to the scope, and aims at a tiny target hundreds of feet away Cadwalader and Duel take aim

“Lock and load Engage the enemy Kill the target!” Cadwalader says as Duel begins to fire at the targets “You’re high You’re high”

The scenario is all part of a training exercise meant to prepare National Guard soldiers like Duel and Cadwalader, both members of the 1st Batallion, 194th Armor Delta Company in St Cloud, with as many warlike experiences as possible before they deploy It also helps build their confidence with the weapons and with each other

This will be the first deployment for both men Cadwalader said he sees the deployment as a rite of passage

“Signing up in a time of war, yeah, there is nervousness But the funner part is all the training that we get to do,” he said “I enjoy it more and more every month As long as we’re out here training, I enjoy it”

From now to late May, 2,700 men and women of Minnesota’s 1st Brigade, 34th Infantry Division will complete dozens of intensive training exercises like this one

Each month, their training will focus on a range of exercises, from combat moves to personal health and cultural assimilation They’ll also get their teeth cleaned, write wills and talk about their religious beliefs with a chaplain

Nearly two-thirds of soldiers in the Red Bull brigade are veterans

This deployment will be the largest Minnesota National Guard deployment since World War II It’s expected to last one year

In 2005, the Red Bull Infantry Division sent about 2,500 soldiers to Iraq In 2011, from a base in Kuwait, they’ll provide convoy security, route protection and base defense as other troops leave the war zone in Iraq

This massive deployment has redefined the nature of Minnesota’s National Guard service, transforming part-time soldiers into full-time warriors

Perhaps no one has more responsibility for the safety and success of the 1st Brigade’s mission than Col Eric Kerska, the brigade commander

Towering at 6-foot-3, Kerska, 45, is a two-time Iraq veteran — Operation Desert Storm and a 2005 tour in Iraq — and a self-described “boots-on-the-ground” leader This weekend, it’s his soldiers who are front and center at Camp Ripley

Kerska heads around the camp to check in on troops As the person in charge of the units’ training, Kerska said he’s focused on preparing his soldiers for the worst possible scenarios

“I refuse to be lulled into a sense of security that this is going to be easier than last time I hope it is easier than last time,” he said, “but I’m not willing to bet my guys’ and gals’ futures on that”

Kerska said he’s confident his brigade will be ready for combat in six months, in part because there’s a greater sense of urgency during their monthly training sessions now

Camp Ripley bustles with activity on these weekends Most of the soldiers come wearing full camouflage fatigues, and during specific exercises, many wear full battle gear including a helmet and about 35 pounds of body armor
Those who have served before train to refine their skills Those going for the first time train to learn because they have no idea what’s ahead

Like all soldiers, they’ll leave behind husbands, wives and children — along with their careers as firefighters, miners, lawyers and roofers — for about a year

Pfc Cadwalader’s girlfriend is expecting a baby in April

“It’s going to get more nerve-wracking as the days go by,” he said

Col Kerska checks in on another of Camp Ripley’s training locations Called the “shoot house,” and made of brick and mortar, it’s a maze-like building where soldiers practice knocking down bolted doors, navigating narrow passageways, and attacking enemy targets

Kerska meets with Staff Sgt Justin Goff, from the 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry in Duluth, a range safety officer who’s monitoring security cameras as soldiers charge into a room They’re practicing with dry, blank rounds right now, but eventually they’ll do the same exercise with live ammunition

“How’s it going, the dry runs? Are we on track?” Kerska asks

“Some of it is going through You can kind of see when a new guy goes through, like right here,” Goff says “He’s talking through a lot of stuff”

The transformation from “new guy” to soldier comes quickly at Ripley

Repeating these drills is what Sgt Greg Schlichting, 31, Cambridge, is focused on now

He is sitting inside a Humvee simulator with four other soldiers

The vehicle sits on a rotating pivot that can roll the vehicle upside down

Outside the Humvee, Cpt Jon Holliday, also from the Duluth squad, talks to the team through an intercom

“You are driving in the desert and your driver is falling asleep,” he tells the team

Holliday pushes a button on the control panel and the car rolls over Soldiers need to figure out how to get out with all their equipment

The soldiers release their seat belts and work to secure their weapons

It takes the soldiers less than 2 minutes to emerge from the Humvee Sweat drips from Sgt Schlichting’s chin as he steps out It’s the third time he’s done this rollover exercise, and he admits sometimes they get repetitive But after serving in Iraq in 2005, he knows there’s never enough practice

“I think they took on a different meaning more when I came back from the last deployment I thought that the training was more important,” he said “Before, I didn’t think it was fully important as it is, and I ended up using all the training while deployed”

Schlichting and hundreds of other soldiers learn from these drills, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions — like where they’ll mobilize, how long they’ll deploy and exactly how they’ll respond to an enemy

By: Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Published November 27 2010


 

Article source
http://www.grandforksherald.com/event/article/id/184864/



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