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Minnesota National Guard
Workload increases as Cloquet Guard unit prepares for deployment

By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Published March 11, 2011, 09:41 AM

The Cloquet-area Minnesota Army National Guard Unit will send some 130 of its soldiers to Kuwait and Iraq for a year-long deployment this spring - part of the second largest deployment of Minnesota soldiers since World War II

"This represents pretty much a full mobilization of the unit," said Sgt First Class Troy Smith, Cloquet Readiness NCO, "so almost all of the soldiers from here will deploy The only ones left behind will be those who are on their way out and who have chosen not to deploy with us, or those who are not medically cleared to deploy"
While the unit is primarily made up of soldiers from the local area, it also includes soldiers from communities such as Minneapolis, Rochester and even Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Smith said an alert was posted last fall regarding the pending deployment, and the mobilization was announced in January The local soldiers who will be headed overseas range in age from 18-50, and an estimated 40 percent of them have deployed at least once before, including almost all of the senior leadership of the unit

"The young soldiers are in great hands; their leaders possess a melting pot of experience and previous deployment time," Smith said

The local soldiers are part of the Duluth-based 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, many of whom were previously deployed to Iraq and Saudi Arabia in 2004-2005 with the Cloquet unit

Smith said since that time, the Minnesota Guard reorganized in late 2006 After being an air defense unit for 10 years, the local unit served a brief stint as an infantry unit attached to Minneapolis before transitioning to a cavalry unit with its headquarters in Duluth

Smith said the classification significantly changes the duties of the local unit

"We are now cavalry scouts, the modern day equivalent to the horse-drawn cavalry," he stated, "and the scout's mission is reconnaissance and finding the enemy The First Brigade's mission for this deployment will be to guard bases in Kuwait and provide route security in Iraq"
The Cloquet-area soldiers, along with the rest of the 2,400 members of the Bloomington-based 1st Brigade Combat Team, will depart later this spring Until then, the work load is ramping up significantly

"When you know you're being deployed, everything changes - from the full-time staff that runs the Cloquet Armory through the individual soldiers and the things they have to do to get ready - getting certified to deploy is a ton of work," Smith said "You have to have all of your medical and dental work updated and ready to go, and then there are administrative tasks that have to be lined up, such as life insurance forms, emergency contact information, school money and benefits Then, we have to actually train the soldiers, including countless briefs, physical training, tactics exercises, technology classes, cultural awareness training, and myriad other things we have to complete"

New equipment and uniforms for the deployment are arriving weekly at the National Guard Armory in Cloquet, including the latest in helmets, body armor and fire-retardant uniforms

"They are significantly more advanced than the ones we used during the last deployments," attested Smith "They're lighter but stronger, more breathable and more fire retardant"

Another thing that has changed to the benefit of the unit is the fact that training has been streamlined through the use of online technology

"What the Guard has been able to do," explained Smith, "is cut down the mobilization period by doing some of those classes in an online setting because these young guys coming in are so technologically advanced That's cut down significantly on the amount of time they have to spend in deployment Last time, our local soldiers spent six months at the mobilization site before going over to Iraq for a year Others served the same period and then ended up being extended as part of the surge for an additional three months"

Preliminary to the actual deployment process, local soldiers undergo their annual two-week training, except this year it will be done in May instead of during the summer months From there, they will go to the mobilization site at Fort McCoy, Wis, for approximately two months, and then they will move on to overseas for the balance of their year's deployment

An important part of preparing for the deployment has been gearing up the local Family Readiness Group (FRG), which has been holding monthly meetings since receiving word of the pending deployment last fall Smith said each of the group's recent meetings has addressed a topic of importance in preparing soldiers and their families for the year-long separation, such as financial management, home upkeep and repair and staying in touch via Skype and other computer programs The local FRG also has its own newsletter, e-mail address and a Facebook page to keep all concerned updated and connected with their loved ones and other families in the unit

"It's a long time to be away from home," Smith attested from his own personal experience "It's tough for us as soldiers when you take everything into consideration such as the horrors of war and the environment over there, but that pales in comparison to being members of the family, having to live their daily lives here in the community and around the same people - except for that key person, that husband or wife or mom or dad who's deployed far from home"

Community Support Council to safeguard the home front while soldiers are away

As the local National Guard Unit prepares for deployment to the Middle East, the staff and commander have announced plans to form a Community Support Council (CSC) to help "take care of business" while they are away
"We're blessed here in Cloquet that we have a really good relationship with the community," said Sgt Troy Smith "We have strong ties with both the business sector and the private sector, and the Cloquet Community Support Council will formalize our relationship between the unit and the community"

Capt Michael Boelk, commander of the local unit since Jan 2010, will send out invitations to local business leaders, political leaders and community leaders as well as social and service groups, asking them to come to an open house meeting at the armory where they will help establish the CSC organization

From there, a network of e-mail communications will be established and monthly meetings will be scheduled
"It's a matter of the unit reaching out in the community and establishing a framework," explained Smith "We want to involve business and civic leaders but also the average citizen who wants to help out

"If, for example, someone is deployed with this unit and his wife is at home taking care of their three kids, it's December and the furnace goes out, we want to make certain there's somebody the wife can call Or maybe someone from a local civic club might offer to shovel sidewalks for the family of a deployed soldier - that sort of thing"

Anyone interested in learning more about the Cloquet CSC can attend an informational meeting on Monday, April 4, at 6 pm at the Cloquet Armory, or contact the group at cloquetcsc@gmailcom

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