| Red Bulls prepare for Iraq duty
Training exercises at Camp Ripley, Minn, are preparing Minnesota National Guard soldiers for a deployment in Iraq
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
Litchfield and Local Veteran Honor Gen. John Vessey at Armory Open House
Posted: 2017-03-10 08:50 AM
LITCHFIELD, Minn. -Bruce Cottington, a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea, donated a bronze bust of Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr. to the Litchfield National Guard unit during the armory's public open house event March 4. Cottington, a Litchfield resident, commands the Minnesota Chapter of the Veterans of Underage Military Service. VUMS members enlisted in the military prior to the minimum age requirement in order to serve their country during WWII. Cottington received the bust from Vessey, a fellow VUMS member. Both enlisted in the military at the age of 16.
The highlight of the 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion open house was the unveiling of the sculpture. The unit was very supportive when Cottington proposed donating the sculpture. The Litchfield community has always been very supportive of the National Guard over the years, so the open house was a chance to say 'thanks' to their neighbors. "This was a great opportunity to honor Bruce and to honor Gen. Vessey," said B Co., 334th Brigade Engineer Battalion Commander, Capt. Seth Goreham. Bravo Company also has a tight relationship with the local American Legion and VFW. Many Litchfield citizens are former members of Bravo Company, or the unit's predecessors A Co, 682nd Engineer Battalion, and the 849th Mobility Augmentation Company.
Camp Ripley welcomes new command sergeant major
Posted: 2017-03-08 03:29 PM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The garrison command team of Camp Ripley, family, friends and colleagues from the Minnesota National Guard attended a Change of Responsibility ceremony between Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Worden and Command Sgt. Maj. Matt Erickson, March 5, 2017, at Camp Ripley.
The ceremony was an official "passing of the sword" from one senior noncommissioned officer to the next and assumption of the duties and responsibilities that go along with the position of Garrison Command Sergeant Major.
As with many military ceremonies those in attendance welcomed Erickson as a new member of the team and bid farewell, recognized and thanked Worden for his service.
Norwegian youth recognized for response to vehicle accident
Posted: 2017-02-22 09:59 AM
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - Norwegian youths Stian Dahl and Haavard Engen received the Camp Ripley Garrison Commander's coin from Col. Scott St Sauver February 19, 2017, in recognition for reacting to a vehicle accident they witnessed earlier that week.
As part of the U.S.-Norway Reciprocal Troop Exchange, Norwegian youths ages 19-20 are matched up with a host family in order to spend an evening experiencing American culture. In most situations the "Buddy Weekend" as it's called allows the youths to go shopping, attend events and have home-cook meals along with their host family.
"We are able to match up youth members with families all over the state," said Staff Sgt. Tim Krouth, Buddy Weekend organizer. "Lots of the families have hosted one or two of our Norwegian friends for several years in a row now, it a great way to relax and see some of Minnesota."
To the top of the mountain and back, NOREX 44 members embrace the Norwegian winter
Posted: 2017-02-21 01:25 PM
HALTDALEN, Norway - After two days at a base camp near Haltdalen, Norway, Minnesota National Guardsmen participating in the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange were ready for the most challenging aspect of their four-day field training exercise - a ski march up the mountain.
It was Day three of the FTX, meaning members of the 44th Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange had slowly adjusted to surviving and thriving while living in a winter environment and also honed their skills on cross country skills well enough to begin a climb that would take nearly three hours.
"Our goal was to get you to know how to use the winter, see how the Norwegians use the winter, and how we survive the winter so we can conduct combat," said Vidar Aune, one of several members of Home Guard 12 guiding the Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen during their training here. "By getting the experience living outside in the snow, you manage to survive it and handle it quite well."