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Minnesota National Guard
Room links families to deployed soldiers (video)

Posted:September 14, 2011 - 8:18pm

gt 1st Class Chris Spieker (left) assisted Amanda Krebsbach as  she connected with her husband, Staff Sgt Matt Krebsbach, in Kuwait,  via Skype at the newly opened Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room at the  American Legion Post 255 in Brainerd  Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
Sgt. 1st Class Chris Spieker (left) assisted Amanda Krebsbach as she connected with her husband, Staff Sgt Matt Krebsbach, in Kuwait, via Skype at the newly opened Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room at the American Legion Post 255 in Brainerd

By Renee Richardson
Staff Writer

The genuine warmth from friends who were able to see deployed soldiers for the first time in months was apparent to the eye and ear.

They sighed and smiled and made comments about haircuts Separated by nearly 7,000 miles, eight hours and more than 70 degrees, and yet they appeared in the same room at the same time connected by sight and sound All through the power of telecommunications fueled by a will and donations comes the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room at the American Legion Post 255 in Brainerd.

A former pool room was transformed to a place where family and friends may now connect with loved ones serving their country far from home A ceremony to open the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room brought together soldiers, civilians and veterans Wednesday morning at the Legion on Front Street.

Amanda Krebsbach, 32, married Staff Sgt Matt Krebsbach, 32, in April Just recently back in Kuwait after missions in Iraq, her husband's face appeared on the television screen This is his third deployment It's her first They talk as often as they can using Skype to make voice and video calls using the Internet and write letters.

"It would be a lot harder," Amanda Krebsbach said of the separation if it did not come with the ability to harness technology to communicate.

Dawn DeBoer Fisher, one of Sgt Krebsbach's friends and a bartender at the Legion, was able to see her friend for the first time since the unit deployed Fisher said it's hard to imagine during the Vietnam War it took months to get a letter back Now they were seeing the soldiers in real time.

"I think this room will be huge for the families," Fisher said.

The room may be used by family or friends of military members of any branch serving overseas.

About 70 soldiers from the Brainerd-based Headquarters Company, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor were part of the deployment in support of Operation New Dawn, signifying the US drawdown phase in Iraq.

The soldiers are stationed in Kuwait with the Brainerd-based National Guard members providing base defense in Kuwait and performing route security operations in Iraq.

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room was created with the help of donations from about 26 area businesses and the 194th Tank Regiment One side of the room is devoted to photos and information about the Legion Post 255 Color Guard, Minnesota's first Color Guard, which was established in 1935.

Lt. Col. Brian Melton, commander 1-194 CAB, Command Sgt Maj John Lepowsky and Capt Joseph Sanganoo spoke from Kuwait to those gathered in Brainerd, thanking people for their support to help make the telecommunications room possible It's hoped the effort will also help draw younger soldiers to the Legion and perhaps future service with the Color Guard.

They reported the 194th, which has been in Kuwait about 60 days now, has been doing an outstanding job and was named Top Gun for the entire brigade.

"They just did a terrific job," Melton said.

The soldiers trained on vehicle systems, in combat lifesaving and on physical fitness to prepare for the grueling temperatures of Kuwait and Iraq The unit took over the mission from soldiers from Michigan and have been going out daily in Iraq It's been a busy time for them, they reported On the post, soldiers have a USO Club, weight room and such comforts from home as a McDonald's, Starbucks and Taco Bell They have volleyball leagues and organized weekly 5K runs� 

Lepowsky said mail has been much appreciated by the soldiers and is a highlight of the day� 

"It's fun watching some of the creative things the families send to us," Lepowsky said� 

"Thanks for giving our families a way to stay connected," � Sgt Wade Austin said from Kuwait Austin is from the Brainerd area "Thank you all for taking the time to do this and support us over here"� 

The Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign began in Minnesota with retired Maj. Gen. Larry Shellito, former adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, was instrumental in getting started� 

"Without the donations we wouldn't have been able to do this," said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Spieker, who also is commander of the Brainerd American Legion Post About $5,000 came in donations with hours volunteered to renovate the room and put in the equipment� 

Spieker said he hopes he's called often to set up the connection between Brainerd and deployed service members He is continuing to work on upgrades for the room, such as a table and down the road a large TV� 

"I'd like to see some families call in right away," he said� 

Sanganoo echoed other sentiments when he said the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Room should be a model for the rest of the state and the nation: "It's folks like you that make me proud to put on this uniform everyday"

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at reneerichardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852

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